COLUMBIA — There’s a storm coming, and it’s headed straight toward Kansas City.
Hours after Missouri defeated Texas A&M 40-26 on Saturday to improve to 9-1 (5-1 Big 12 Conference), Kansas beat Oklahoma State 43-28 to stay perfect at 10-0 (6-0). Barring upsets in their games next week, the rivals will face each other on Nov. 24 at Arrowhead Stadium for not only the rights to represent the North Division in the Big 12 Championship game, but also a possible berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
When the latest BCS standings were released Sunday evening, the Jayhawks were ranked third, the Oklahoma Sooners fourth and the Tigers fifth. It is the first time three teams from the same conference have made the top five this season.
All three teams moved up one spot from last week after previously top-ranked Ohio State lost at home to Illinois on Saturday. The loss dropped the Buckeyes to seventh in the BCS standings and shoved LSU (9-1) into first, with 8-1 Oregon trailing in second.
Although the Tigers, Jayhawks and Sooners are all in line to earn one of the 10 BCS bids, a maximum of two teams per conference can receive an invitation. One of those teams gets an automatic bid for winning its conference championship. The other may be selected as an at-large team at the BCS’s discretion, as long as it has at least nine wins and is ranked no lower than 14th in the BCS poll.
Either way, the Tigers will likely have to beat the Jayhawks, who are ranked ahead of them in all three polls. MU is No. 6 in the Associated Press, USA Today and Harris polls, while the Jayhawks are fourth.
A few weeks ago, the Tigers’ chances at a BCS game were bleak. But with Boston College and the Buckeyes falling from the ranks of the unbeaten in the past two weeks, a trip to the BCS title game at the Superdome in New Orleans is suddenly possible for the Tigers.
Of course, it won’t be easy. The Tigers have to win against Kansas State on Saturday, then beat KU and prevail in the Big 12 title game, a likely rematch against Oklahoma. At the same time, either LSU or Oregon will have to lose another game.
LSU appears to have the harder path. It plays at Ole Miss and and then at home against Arkansas before playing either No. 9 Georgia, No. 12 Florida, No. 20 Tennessee or No. 23 Kentucky in the SEC championship.
Oregon, meanwhile, travels to Arizona and UCLA before playing its final game at home against Oregon State. None of Oregon’s remaining opponents are ranked, and the Pac-10 does not have a conference championship game. However, the Ducks, who play Arizona at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN, lost to the Wildcats last season in Eugene, Ore., 37-10.
After the A&M game, MU coach Gary Pinkel, who has constantly pled the fifth on all questions related to the postseason, finally acknowledged his team’s place in the BCS picture.
“It’s hard to get this done,” he said. “This isn’t easy. We’re the hunted now. When you’re ranked, people come after you.”
The first team to get a crack at ruining the Tigers’ BCS party is K-State, a team that gave up 73 points in a loss to Nebraska on Saturday but has beaten MU in 13 of its past 14 meetings.
Officials from the Orange and Sugar Bowls were in attendance at Faurot Field on Saturday, and the Tigers might be tempted to overlook the 5-5 Wildcats in anticipation of the all-important Border Showdown the following week.
Pinkel said he will talk to his players early this week to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“I think we’re doing OK right now with that,” he said. “We’ll wake up Monday and revisit it. I’ll meet with the seniors.
“My big thing is just to keep players focused on what we need to do to play our best game. I think they understand that if you don’t put in all your focus and preparation, there’s no way it’s going to get done.”