The Mississippi State Bulldogs and Oklahoma State Cowboys meet on a massive stage in Houston to provide what will surely be a display of offensive firepower in Reliant Stadium.
Both teams are coming off 8-5 campaigns last year, although the Bulldogs lost their bowl game while the Cowboys dropped 58 points in victory.
The Cowboys have questions at quarterback but have finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring, passing and total offense in each of the last three seasons. Conversely, the Bulldogs return five starters on the offensive line to pave the way for a committee of talented backs.
Prepare for a high-scoring affair in Houston. Here are the key players to watch.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Watch: ESPN 2 and ABC
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State
Tyler Russell exploded on to the scene last year by throwing the ball just south of 400 times. He completed 58 percent of those attempts for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
Russell may have caught defenses by surprise a year ago, but that simply will not be the case in 2013. He has lost his top four receivers, including, so Russell's job will to be establishing chemistry with his patchwork crop of receivers.
The good news is that Russell is backed by a strong offensive line and a running back in LaDarius Perkins who rushed for 1,016 yards a year ago behind the same line.
The Oklahoma State defense is not terrible, but recruiting efforts have clearly favored the offense. If Russell can get off to a big day early, Houston will have a shootout on its hands.
Clint Chelf, QB, Oklahoma State
According to the Clarion Ledger, the Oklahoma State coaching staff is planning on using quarterbacks Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh both in the contest against the Bulldogs.
Last season both quarterbacks posted very similar numbers:
It's a bad sign that neither quarterback has managed to separate himself at this point, but the nod for most playing time should go to the senior, Chelf, with Walsh only being a sophomore.
Not only will Chelf be tasked with getting the ball to his star receiver, but he'll also have to hope running back Jeremy Smith can replace the 1,417 yards lost with Joseph Randle, who departed to Dallas in the NFL.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
Chelf's top target is easily Josh Stewart, a 5'10", 185-pound talent who has taken the torch from past receivers like Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.
Stewart put up a jaw-dropping stat line last season with 101 receptions for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns.
Which team wins?
Going into his third season, Stewart ranks 10th all time at OSU in yards, with 1,501. He should have no issue continuing to climb up that ladder in 2013 as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver, but his more immediate focus will be on taking advantage of a lackluster Bulldogs defense.
With the running game in question and multiple quarterbacks poised to see snaps, Stewart needs to play at his highest level for the Cowboys to come out on top in a shootout.
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