KANSAS CITY — The last thing this ancient and acrimonious rivalry needed was an extra adrenaline jolt.
Kansas and Missouri are so quarrelsome already, they can't even agree on who has beaten whom the most.
According to Kansas, the Jayhawks have built a 55-53-9 lead since that day in 1891 when fans arriving by carriage and horseback witnessed their first kickoff. But the Tigers claim a 54-54-9 standoff.
Two things both sides do agree upon are that Mark Mangino is 4-3 against Missouri, and the embattled coach may be leading Kansas for the final time Saturday in the 119th renewal of college football's second-oldest rivalry.
For two tense weeks, Kansas has been conducting an internal investigation into Mangino's treatment of players. Since news of the probe broke, many former players have come forward with stories of insensitive comments they claim Mangino made to them in the heat of games and practice. Other players, past and present, have leapt to his defense.
It has become obvious that Mangino and his boss, athletic director Lew Perkins, are at serious odds. Each man said tersely that they have a good professional relationship. But neither claimed any personal warmth toward the other, and the whole mess could wind up in court if the Jayhawks try to fire Mangino for cause and save about $6 million.
So add all that to an already juicy rivalry that traces its roots to the violent frontier days that preceded the Civil War. The discrepancy in the series record stems from Missouri noting that Kansas was ordered to forfeit a 1960 victory for using an ineligible player. But according to the Jayhawks, they were victims of conference politics and the player was not ineligible, and so their victory stands.
Mangino's combative public stance has been that he's done nothing wrong, that his coaching philosophy is the same as it was two years ago when Perkins gave him a contract extension and big raise after the Jayhawks went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.
He insisted he intends to return for a ninth season but concedes it will not entirely be up to him.
"What I think probably is not as important as what other people are believing or thinking that are involved in this situation," Mangino said. "But I can tell you I'm going strong. I'm really focused on Missouri. The players are."
For more motivation, the Jayhawks (5-6, 1-6 Big 12) can look to end a six-game losing streak and become bowl eligible while beating a bitter archrival.
The stakes are also high for Missouri (7-4, 3-4). The Tigers are angling for an attractive bowl invitation, hoping to bolster Danario Alexander's bid for postseason honors — and beat a bitter archrival.
"We're certainly excited about being part of a big rivalry like this," said coach Gary Pinkel. "The day I got here we heard a lot about this from a lot of different alumni from the moment I walked in this place. It's a great rivalry and not every school gets to be part of a rivalry like this."
The Tigers have rescued their season by winning three of their last four, a run that coincided with the emergence of Alexander at the tail end of an injury-plagued career. The senior wide receiver, who's had four operations, totaled 214 yards receiving against Baylor on Nov. 7; 200 yards the next week at Kansas State; and 173 yards last week against Iowa State.
"This is an intense rivalry. It's the biggest game on the schedule," said Alexander, the Big 12's leading receiver. "If you win no games throughout the season but beat KU, it's an OK season."
But Kansas can also throw the ball. Senior quarterback Todd Reesing holds virtually every meaningful school passing record. He'll be throwing to wide receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, whose combined yardage of 197.87 per game is second in the NCAA.
In last year's game, Reesing connected with Meier on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds to play.
"I'm just tired of hearing their names," Pinkel said. "I think Meier's been there for like 15 years. They're real good. Their numbers are good, and they've certainly had their struggles, but they have a good football team."
Mangino said he's confident a 6-6 record would be good enough to secure a bowl invitation. It might also prove awkward if the school decides to part ways with the man who would then be just one win away from tying their 99-year-old record for most coaching victories.
"For everything Coach has done for us, if we could do anything to give back, we're going to try to do it," Meier said. "We're behind him 100 percent because he's brought us to where we are today, and we're going to try to get him another victory this Saturday."