After their 35-24 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 6, many Missouri football players thought their preseason goals had evaporated.
The Tigers fell to 4-5, 2-4 in the Big 12 Conference with the loss, leaving little hope to win the North Division and reach the conference championship game. Even reaching a bowl game suddenly seemed daunting.
Second chance with the Border Showdown
But after Missouri watched a Saturday in the division unfold with a bye last week, the Tigers still have a chance to reach those goals, beginning with the Border Showdown against Kansas (3-7, 1-6) on Saturday.
“Well, it’s pretty remarkable first of all,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “It’s just one of those years that things are shaking out like they are… I really think this KU game is bigger than these other things that are involved. It’s a crazy year in our division, as you all know.”
Senior offensive lineman Scott Paffrath was just one of many dismayed Tigers after the Kansas State loss when he said that as a senior his goals were gone. But during the Tigers’ weekly media day on Monday, he seemed re-energized by Missouri’s new opportunity.
“I’d say it’s definitely interesting that somebody with a losing record in the Big 12 could win the Big 12 North,” Paffrath said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, that’s our own fault.”
Still, Paffrath said the Kansas game has no extra meaning because of the Tigers’ bowl hopes. Instead, it comes down to Missouri against Kansas.
“I think it means more because it’s the Kansas rivalry,” he said. “That adds into it that we need a win, but this is the Kansas game. If we were both 0-9 or 0-8, I don’t think it would matter. I still think it’d be a good game and everybody would want to get after each other and that’s what’s going to happen.”
"Rivalry...goes beyond the football field"
Players and coaches on both sides of the game echoed Paffrath’s statements that this game is important even with both teams struggling.
Missouri’s senior guard Joe Gianino said the rivalry between the Tigers and Jayhawks goes beyond the football field.
“Well, the rivalry is always big,” Gianino said. “You can’t look at last year’s game. You can’t look at 10 years ago. This game has been passed down from generation to generation. So every year is separate and we got a responsibility.
“It’s a huge rivalry. If you look at it, it goes back to before us. It goes back to before football. It goes back to blood.”
Kansas’ sophomore offensive lineman Travis Dambach, a Jackson, Mo., native said he had little understanding of the rivalry until he reached Kansas.
But he soon learned of the historical importance of the game.
“It wasn’t until I got here and started talking to some of the people here that I learned what this rivalry means,” Dambach said. “One of our coaches has lived in Lawrence his whole life and told us how it goes beyond football, back to the Civil War.
“Until you hear that, you don’t realize the importance of this game.”
Pinkel and Kansas counterpart Mark Manginoalso realize the magnitude of the Border Showdown.
Mangino said the game is one of the best rivalries west of the Mississippi River and during his news conference Monday, Pinkel said the game against the Jayhawks is the biggest game on the Tigers’ schedule, even bigger than a possible bowl game.
“I’ll have a record here when I leave, what my KU record is going to be and it’ll be etched in granite and every player will, every single player will have his record versus KU and really no other team as much as that game, and that’s how big it is,” Pinkel said.