Two teams going in opposite directions will meet in Ames, Iowa, for their final game of the regular season Saturday.
Missouri (4-6, 2-5 Big 12 Conference) plays Iowa State (6-3, 4-3) in a game that means everything for the Cyclones and nothing for the Tigers.
If Iowa State wins, it secures first place in the Big 12-North Division and a trip to the conference championship game Dec. 4 against Oklahoma. A Missouri win places the Tigers, who cannot become eligible for a bowl, in the middle of the pack in the North.
“You just want to end the season on a positive note,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “These have been tough weeks.”
The Tigers could have been playing for bowl eligibility, but a 31-14 loss to Kansas in their last game eliminated that possibility. The game served as a microcosm for Missouri’s decline this season.
Although Missouri still leads the Big 12 in total defense and passing defense, they allowed 374 yards of offense to the Jayhawks, who balanced their attack with 135 yards rushing and 239 yards passing.
The Tiger offense was typically stagnant. Missouri amassed 262 passing yards but had 256 total yards because of negative 6 total rushing yards.
“(Kansas) was pretty geeked up for the game and for the rivalry,” wide receiver Sean Coffey said. “Last week, we had a lot of things to look forward to and one loss can change everything. Now (Iowa State) has a lot of things to look forward to.”
The prospect of postseason play looked bleak for the Cyclones after going on a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season. But a four-game winning streak and a North Division that no team has seemed eager to win, leaves Iowa State as the only team in the North controlling its destiny.
With the exception of its pass defense, Iowa State is not among the conference leaders in any statistical category, but has displayed an ability to find ways to win during its four-game winning streak.
The Cyclones trailed Kansas State 23-9 entering the fourth quarter in its last game, but scored 28 points, including three touchdowns in 3 minutes, 30 seconds to win. It was the first win for Iowa State in Manhattan, Kan., since 1988.
Coach Dan McCarney said his team will have to overcome Missouri’s tough defense and the excitement of winning the North to win Saturday.
“All I know is, this is a team that beat us 45-7 last year and is clearly one of the best defenses in the conference,” McCarney said. “This is Gary’s best defense, without question. We’re going to have our hands full, I know that much. We know they’re very capable of beating anybody, especially Iowa State if we’re not ready to go.”
Before the season started, the media picked Iowa State to finish last in the North and Missouri to finish second. Kansas State, who is now in last place, was picked to win the North. Although the South Division has followed a predictable path, with Oklahoma first and Texas second, no team has emerged as the leader in the North.
McCarnney said he will not let Missouri spoil his chance for Iowa State’s first division title.
“We’ve come a long way since the first game and I’m not about to let off the accelerator,” he said. “I want to keep this thing going.”