COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel knows that Saturday won’t be easy.
Nevermind that Missouri is 9-2 and Kansas is 3-8. It doesn’t matter that Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has thrown for 2,573 yards this season while Kansas can’t even settle on a starter at the position. And it makes no difference that Missouri’s defense has 13 interceptions on the season compared to Kansas’ five.
No. 15 Missouri (9-2, 5-2)
vs. Kansas (3-8, 1-6)
WHEN: 11:40 a.m.
WHERE: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: Fox Sports Net
Missouri has won three of its past four games against Kansas, including two of the past three played at Arrowhead Stadium. A victory would give Missouri a 10-win season for only the fourth time. The Tigers also had 10 victories in 1960 (11-0), 2007 (12-2) and 2008 (10-4).
On Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, all those numbers will become meaningless.
“You can throw the records out,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “This means so much to each team.”
Despite the discrepancies between the two teams, each of the past three Border War games has been decided by eight points or less. In what will be the teams’ 119th meeting, the players and coaches know that they can’t take anything for granted. Although Saturday's game arguably means more to Missouri, which has both a 10-win season and a chance at the Big 12 North championship on the line, right now, beating Kansas counts the most.
Pinkel said Missouri's series against Kansas is one of the most hateful rivalries he knows of, but that he tries to focus on a different feeling with his players, what he calls "competitive hatred." He says it’s crucial for his players to be able to move on after the game, though that’s not really a part of the rivalry for the fans.
“Certainly you can have this great competition, and when it’s over, move on,” Pinkel said. “I know Missouri and KU fans have trouble doing that.”
Senior safety Jarrell Harrison said that Pinkel has done a good job instilling that mentality in his players.
“I think more with the players, it’s competitive hatred,” Harrison said. “With the fans, it’s really hate.”
Harrison said that his neighbors have been talking to him about the Kansas game all week, and he knows how much a win would mean to Missouri fans and to his team. He and quarterback Blaine Gabbert know that the game has a history of being a closer contest than one might expect, and Harrison said that the energy inside Arrowhead makes it one of his favorite games of the season.
Pinkel said that at the heart of his players’ preparation for Saturday is a mantra they’ve tried to embrace since the team’s loss to Texas Tech. After that game, many of the seniors came to Pinkel and said that they wanted to focus only on one game at a time, not on the bigger picture.
“We’re much better off as a football team just focusing on Kansas itself, and take all the other stuff completely out and put all our preparation on this game,” Pinkel said.
This week, however, there’s a lot of the other stuff that might be hard for players to ignore. With Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M all clustered together in the rankings, each team’s results this weekend will largely dictate which bowl it goes to. Gabbert said he’s sure he will watch at least part of Nebraska’s game on Friday — it’s just too important of a game in the Big 12 North for him to ignore.
Gabbert knows that he needs to stick to that singular focus on Saturday, though, and there’s only one thing that is important in his mind.
“If you end up winning, that’s all that matters,” Gabbert said.
It really is that simple.