Nine of the 10 schools playing Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association football this season open their schedules this weekend with five on Thursday and four on Saturday.

Third-ranked Northwest Missouri State (12-2, 9-0 MIAA in ’07) faces a key national battle with No. 8-ranked Abilene Christian (Texas) of the Lone Star Conference in their home opener Saturday.

The Bearcats defense will have to try to stop Division II’s top returning rusher in ACU’s Bernard Scott (166.5 ypg last season). Northwest, meanwhile, will be playing for the first time without Xavier Omon in the backfield — but senior QB Joel Osborn does have senior WR Kendall Wright back to throw to, among others.

The Lions of Missouri Southern (6-5, 4-5 MIAA in ’07) open up against the Gulf South Conference’s Harding (Ark.) Bisons at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.

Southern senior QB Adam Hinspeter could jump deep into the MIAA’s top five in career passing yards with a solid performance in the opener. He enters the season with 7,173 yards — 61 away from taking over fifth place and 193 away from fourth place. Senior LB Jared Brawner leads a Lion defense which ranked No. 1 in MIAA total defense (289.8 ypg).

Central Missouri (7-4, 6-3 MIAA in ’07) hosts Minnesota State-Mankato, one of the four former North Central Conference schools which joined the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

The Mules unveil a new offensive scheme this season with eight starters back from last season — including junior QB Eric Czerniewski and senior RB Glenn Milner. Senior LB Adrian Singletary is the only first teamer among five All-MIAA selections returning on the UCM defense.

Mineral Water Bowl champion Missouri Western (9-3, 6-3 MIAA in ’07) is at Northern (S.D.) State from the NSIC.

The Griffons have the league’s top freshman from 2007, sophomore QB Drew Newhart, along with All-America senior OG Roger Allen back to lead an offense with six other returning starters. Western is looking to open a season victoriously for the fifth straight season.

Truman (6-5, 4-5 MIAA in ’07) was supposed to open at Stokes Stadium against former conference for Missouri S&T, but delays in laying the new artificial surface have forced the Bulldogs and Miners to play the game at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo.

Senior QB Matt Ticich has nine other starters joining him from last season’s squad, and is looking to crack the 6,000-yard mark in career total offense — he comes in at 5,736 yards (4,664 passing, 1,072 rushing). Truman has nine starters back on defense, led by senior DL Les Hammers and senior ILB Mike Phillips.

RULE CHANGES FOR ’08: The NCAA has approved several rules changes to be in effect for the 2008 season.

A 40/25-second play clock system will be used in 2008 in an effort to standardize the pace of play. Unless the game is stopped for administrative reasons (for example, change of possession, injury, etc.), the offensive team will have 40 seconds to snap the ball after it is declared dead.

Additionally, there will be a change in the way the game is timed when a runner goes out of bounds. The game clock will initially stop, as is the case currently. However, except in the last two minutes of each half, the game clock will now start on a signal from the referee, rather than on the snap.

Also approved were changes regarding helmet contact, players who target a defenseless opponent, horse-collar tackling, and enhanced rules dealing with dangerous chop blocks.

When a kickoff goes out of bounds, the receiving team may accept the ball at the 40-yard line instead of the 35.

The incidental 5-yard face mask foul was removed. All face mask fouls (pulling, twisting or turning) will be a 15-yard penalty.

A yardage penalty (5 yards for first and second offense, 15 yards thereafter) for sideline control will be instituted.