January bowl within Tigers' reach

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 | 12:21 a.m. CST; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missouri is off to its best start since the year man first walked on the moon. If the Tigers continue to win, they could accomplish another feat they haven’t matched since that 1969-1970 season.

Playing a game in January.

The Tigers (8-1, 4-1 Big 12 Conference) are fighting with Oklahoma (8-1, 4-1) and Kansas (9-0, 5-0) for supremacy in the conference. The winner of the Big 12 title game will probably play in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, but another scenario is unlikely but possible during this wacky season — a chance to win the national championship.

Such possibilities have surprised many pundits, especially those concerning Kansas, who was picked to finish fourth in the North. But the Big 12 coaches said they weren’t shocked during Monday’s teleconference.

“None of that stuff ever surprises me. People get paid a lot of money to pontificate and try to predict and say what’s gonna happen. That’s a great thing about college football,“ said Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, whose team has played all three Big 12 contenders. “But those guys who are inside the trenches and digging it out day-to-day, they know what those teams are capable of.”

All three have a chance to play in 2008. The Tigers could play in January for the first time since they lost 10-3 to Penn State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970. They are ranked No. 6 in the latest BCS standings, behind the No. 4 Jayhawks and No. 5 Sooners.

The path to the Fiesta Bowl is straightforward but challenging for MU: Win the remaining games to capture the Big 12 title.

First, the Tigers must defeat Texas A&M on Saturday at Faurot Field and Kansas State in Manhattan Nov. 17. But MU fans are looking ahead to the showdown against Kansas, probably telling their relatives to pack up early after stuffing themselves with turkey so they can tailgate on Nov. 24 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

If MU wins that game, they will travel to San Antonio on Dec. 1 for the Big 12 title game. A rematch against Oklahoma would be likely, barring a Sooners collapse. Winning that game would put the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl, which gives an automatic bid to the Big 12 champion.

Oklahoma and Kansas face the same path as the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl, except for the different opponents on their schedules. But with some luck, the Big 12 champion could shock sportswriters even more by playing for the national title.

Three teams are ranked above the Big 12 clump in the BCS: No. 1 Ohio State (10-0), No. 2 LSU (8-1) and No. 3 Oregon (8-1). Two of the top three teams would have to lose for a Big 12 team to have a chance of moving up to No. 2. The opportunities are there. The Buckeyes still have to travel to No. 12 Michigan on Nov. 17, and LSU will face another tough opponent in the SEC title game. Oregon’s schedule is the easiest, with Oregon State at home and trips to Arizona and UCLA remaining.

If they’re going to play in January, the Tigers’ options aren’t limited to the Fiesta Bowl or the national title game. If they win the North but lose in San Antonio, they could be selected as a BCS at-large team, filling one of the 10 BCS slots. Teams in the top 14 are eligible for those berths, which could bring Texas into the picture. With their large fan base and tradition, the No. 14 Longhorns would be an attractive candidate. After the BCS picks, the Cotton Bowl, played in Dallas on Jan. 1, gets the next Big 12 selection.

The Tigers are leaving these discussions to the media. The team is “beyond” the rankings, coach Gary Pinkel said. Unlike previous seasons, players aren’t talking aboutthe polls. They are focused during their workouts, supervised by assistant athletic director Pat Ivey.

“Last week (Ivey) didn’t hear one player say one word about a ranking. Now, (in) ’03, it’s all they talked about. They talked about it before it started, after it started, when they were taking their showers and when they were going to class,” Pinkel said with a laugh.

INJURY UPDATE: No Tigers will wear red injury pullovers during practice this week, Pinkel said, though some players are recovering from minor injuries, including safety Justin Garrett (elbow), tight end Chase Coffman (ankle) and wide receiver Will Franklin (hamstring).

KSU GAME TIME ANNOUNCED: MU will take on Kansas State at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 17 in Manhattan. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.

DANIEL NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Quarterback Chase Daniel was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Colorado on Saturday. He threw for a career-best 421 yards and five touchdowns. Daniel beat out Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, who threw for 354 yards and six touchdowns against Nebraska.

Daniel also won the award earlier this season when he threw for 401 yards against the Cornhuskers.

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