COLUMBIA – Don’t tell Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel that the Tigers’ North Division title has made their game with Kansas unimportant. He doesn’t think anything extra needs to be added for this rivalry.
As far as he is concerned, Missouri against Kansas makes it a big game.
“That game is all by itself,” Pinkel said. “It’s Kansas. It doesn’t matter what the records are. We’ll focus on that game just as we would (if we hadn’t won the North).”
But this game will have nowhere near the significance of a year ago, when the Tigers won both the North Division and the No. 1 ranking with a 36-28 victory over the Jayhawks. That game had so much at stake that Pinkel couldn’t keep track of everything the teams were playing for.
“Last year, I kind of forgot that we won the Big 12 North,” Pinkel said. “It was more for me that we beat KU, our rival, in that stadium and that environment. We were so excited about beating KU, and then in the locker room, we got excited about being Big 12 North champs.”
Pinkel and his players won’t have any trouble remembering they’re North Division champions when they’re presented with the trophy in two weeks. All that’s on the line this time between Missouri and Kansas is pride, bowl positioning and the Indian War Drum, given to the winner of the annual Missouri-Kansas matchup.
But that doesn’t take anything away from the game in Missouri’s eyes.
“It’s obviously going to be an important game,” Pinkel said.
ADVANCE SCOUTING: With the Big 12 North title wrapped up, Pinkel and his team will get a chance to look at two potential opponents in the Big 12 Championship when Texas Tech plays Oklahoma on Saturday. Pinkel and his players have insisted that their focus is on Kansas, but the coach said that he isn’t naïve enough to think the Tigers won't be watching the Red Raiders and Sooners closely.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Pinkel said. “It’s like last week with the Texas-Kansas game. You can sit there and act like they don’t know, but players nowadays, they aren’t living in a cave. They know everything that’s going on.”
Considering that the Tigers don’t play on Saturday, that’s fine with Pinkel, who says he’s very interested in watching the game too.
“I’m sure they’ll be watching what’s going on,” he said. “That’s OK, because we don’t start our preparation until next week for Kansas.”
HOW DO THEY COMPARE?: A year ago, the Tigers entered the Kansas game with the No. 4 ranking and BCS national championship dreams. This year, neither of those are present, but because of how difficult a conference the Big 12 has become, it’s a legitimate question: Are the 2008 Tigers just as good or better than their predecessors?
It’s not a question Pinkel is going to answer definitively.
“That’s debatable a little bit,” he said. “Overall, we’ve had a good year. We’ve had a couple bumps in the road, and when you play in our league, that’s going to happen. It’s a great statement for our league.”
MID-WEEK PLAYOFF?: In the past, Pinkel has made his position clear on a college football playoff: He’s against it, because he thinks it would diminish the regular season’s importance.
In the Big 12 South, if Oklahoma beats Texas Tech and the Sooners, Red Raiders and Texas Longhorns all win their final games, they wouldall finish with conference records of 7-1, with losses only to each other. That would leave the BCS rankings to determine the Tigers’ opponent in the Big 12 Championship, with the highest-ranked team headed to Kansas City .
That possibility also gave Pinkel a chance to take a subtle jab at those who support a college football playoff system.
“That’s just the way it’s going to go down,” Pinkel said. “Some people would probably have a mini-playoff in the middle of the week, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”