STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -Oklahoma State's opener at No. 13 Georgia will take running back Dantrell Savage back to his home state. He wouldn't call the Bulldogs his home team, though.
``Not at all,'' Savage said.
The Cowboys' senior tailback was raised in Columbus, Ga., and instead grew up admiring Southeastern Conference rival Auburn - located just across the Alabama state line from his hometown. The reason was simple.
``Just following Bo Jackson,'' Savage said.
So while Savage knows several players on the Bulldogs' roster from running track at Jordan High School or playing football in high school and at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, it's more of a homecoming than a fulfillment of any childhood dreams.
``I'm real excited about going back to my home state to play, so my mom, grandma and cousins can see me play now,'' Savage said. ``This is too far for them to come here.''
The more than 900-mile journey will mark Oklahoma State's longest trip for a season opener since the Cowboys opened at Washington in 1985. It outdistances recent trips to Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Northern Illinois.
Savage said the drive from his hometown to Oklahoma State's campus takes 13 to 14 hours.
Savage's mother, Monica, made the trip to Stillwater twice last year for games, but this will give other family members - including cousins in Columbus and his father in the Miami area - to see him in person. They'll get another chance in two weeks when Oklahoma State plays at Troy in neighboring Alabama. Both series were established after Savage transferred from junior college before last season.
``I didn't really expect for us to be playing Georgia or even Troy,'' Savage said.
Savage is one of five Georgia natives on Oklahoma State's roster. Linebacker Marcus Brown came from Hephzibah, running back Zach Carter is from Kennesaw, offensive lineman Andrew Lawrence played in Dallas, and defensive lineman Quencey Patrick is from the same town as Savage.
Brown, who rounded up 18 tickets for family and friends, dreamed of playing at Georgia while growing up and attended three games at Sanford Stadium in the recruiting process during high school.
TOUGH START: Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State will find out immediately how far their rebuilding programs have come.
On Saturday, the Bears play at No. 22 TCU, Oklahoma State visits No. 13 Georgia and Kansas State opens at No. 18 Auburn.
``We would certainly like to uphold the conference's reputation,'' third-year Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. ``I don't think there's any question that any time the conference steps out of league play and plays quality opponents, that we would hope our conference fares well.''
Kansas State coach Ron Prince said slotting a big nonconference game as the opener gave his players incentive to work harder in the spring and summer.
``This had a terrific impact on our offseason, the focus,'' Prince said. ``Our players have been really excited and charged up about having this kind of opportunity.''
Gundy has lined up at least one tough, nonconference measuring-stick game for each of the next five seasons. Next year, the Cowboys will start a two-game series with Washington State, Georgia visits in 2009, the Cougars come to town in 2010 and Clemson is on the 2011 schedule.
Oklahoma State went 7-6 last season. But Gundy said games like the opener at Georgia - even if the Cowboys lose - will only help his team in the long run.
``We'll be able to come back and watch tape and find out exactly where we stand in a lot of areas,'' Gundy said.
Prince also sees the Wildcats' trip to Auburn as a key step in the program's development. The Wildcats went 7-6 in 2006 and played Louisville and Texas in the regular season before losing to Rutgers in the Texas Bowl.
``That's exactly the kind of game we need to really to become more calloused and hardened about playing these kind of opponents,'' Prince said. ``You're going to have to beat these type of people to win your own championship, your own division, your own league. Obviously, if you ever have a chance to win the big one, you're going to have to play a team like this.''
Baylor coach Guy Morriss isn't quite so enthusiastic.
``You can go to a smaller I-A or a Division I-AA and everybody's looking for that 12th game every year and the RPI goes up and all that kind of stuff,'' Morriss said. ``Just for me as a coach, from a pure scheduling standpoint, the Big 12 is tough enough.''
IMPROVING TEMPLE: If Missouri tailback Tony Temple plays the way he did in the Sun Bowl loss to Oregon State last year, quarterback Chase Daniel thinks this could be the Tigers' most successful season in decades.
``It means we're probably in the Big 12 Title game,'' Daniel said.
Temple enters his senior season as the leading returning rusher in the Big 12. He topped off the 2006 season with 194 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Missouri's 39-38 loss to Oregon State.
As the Tigers prepare for Saturday's opener against Illinois in St. Louis, Daniel said Temple is possibly the most important player in what is expected to be one of the nation's best offenses, one that ranked eighth in total offense in 2006.
``He's the catalyst,'' Daniel said. ``I've said it 1,000 times: When he's going, we definitely feel like we have a great chance at winning.''
Heading into 2006, Temple, a Kansas City native, had a modest 450 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons at Missouri. He won the starting job during fall camp before last year and broke 100 yards in two of his first three games.
Still, it wasn't until right before the Sun Bowl that things began to click for Temple, after a conversation with running backs coach Brian Jones.
``He sat there and asked me, 'What kind of running back do you think you are?' And I couldn't answer him,'' Temple said. ``He told me, 'Your best stuff is up north, hitting the hole.' Ever since then, that's been my mind-set - just go.''
AP sports writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.

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