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Fall's can't-miss college football games

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We don't have to tell you that your fall Saturdays are booked from here to early December with the road trips, game-day get-togethers and tailgates that accompany college football. But we're saying it anyway: Football is finally back in Manhattan, Columbia and Lawrence. And whether you pledge allegiance to royal purple, black and MU gold, or crimson and blue, one thing unites us all: Opening weekend is September 1.

The University of Missouri, of course, has bolted the Big 12 for cash-greener pastures in the Southeastern Conference. To tune up for the SEC grind, the Tigers host Southeast Louisiana. Quarterback James Franklin needs to be healthy to best last season's eight wins.

Kansas State — led by college football's most intriguing player, Collin Klein — opens against Missouri ... State. The Wildcats' signal caller likely won't need to summon his inner Tebow (he's not a great passer, but he is a strong runner and an even stronger Christian) to pull out a victory here. But he'd better be the second coming of football Jesus if the 'Cats are going to match last season's 10 wins and trip to the Cotton Bowl.

The University of Kansas, meanwhile, must improve everything in order to avoid another winless conference season. The Jayhawks have reset the program, firing Turner Gill and hiring former Chiefs offensive coordinator and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. The Weis era begins against South Dakota State. Weis will rely on a fellow former Irish, quarterback Dayne Crist, to break the Jayhawks out of the Big 12 cellar.

Dates to watch the rest of the season:

September 8 — Missouri's first SEC home game pits the Tigers against the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. The Miami Hurricanes travel to Manhattan looking to avenge last season's loss. KU tries to pluck a win from Rice.

September 15 — Revenge for last season's overtime loss to Arizona is on every Tiger's mind when the Sun Devils come to Columbia. New Big 12 member TCU (No. 20) road-trips to Lawrence. K-State draws a familiar foe, former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney and his North Texas Mean Green.

October 6 — No Border War, no problem. Manhattan has the Sunflower Showdown today. Can Klein take Crist? Missouri's SEC home slate today brings Vanderbilt. Snore.

October 13 — Wake up, MU, the national champions are coming. The Crimson Tide of Alabama rolls into Columbia as the centerpiece of the Tigers' home schedule. You wanted the best? Here you go. Rock Chalkers hope today that an Oklahoma State minus Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon means no blowout.

November 3 — Shootout 2? The Cowboys outgunned the Wildcats 52-45 last year. Can Klein get the drop this time?

November 17 — If Weis keeps a calendar, he likely has the game against Iowa State circled as his best shot at a Big 12 win at home. The other Orange, Syracuse, heads to Columbia for a late-season showdown with Missouri.

December 1 — The Texas Longhorns' last stop before bowl selection is Manhattan. This one has end-of-season blockbuster potential.

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