COLUMBIA — During his weekly press conference Monday, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel acted like Saturday’s game against Kansas State was the only one on the schedule.
“Look, quite honestly, I don’t know who we play after this Saturday. I don’t know. I’m so focused on this game that I don’t know. I’ll know when somebody will tell me Saturday night. But I just don’t know,” he said with a serious glint in his eye.
Then he paused and — just for a moment — grinned.
The Tigers play Kansas on Saturday, Nov. 24, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. While the game will probably determine the Big 12 Conference North Division champion, it will also have implications on the national title.
Ohio State’s loss against Illinois on Saturday means Mizzou (9-1, 5-1 Big 12 Conference) is one step closer to controlling its destiny for advancing to the national championship. But for the Jayhawks (10-0, 6-0), it means if they win out, they will probably play for the national title.
Although the Jayhawks are undefeated now, they are getting as much respect from sportswriters as Rodney Dangerfield.
Pundits don’t consider them the best team in the Big 12 Conference. Voters in the three major polls — The Associated Press, Harris Interactive and USA Today — rank No. 3 Oklahoma (9-1, 5-1) higher than No. 4 Kansas and No. 6 MU.
But one group likes Kansas — computers. If only machines determined who played for the national championship, and the season ended today, the Jayhawks would take on LSU.
Computers help determine who plays for the title. Six ranking systems make up one-third of the Bowl Championship Series standings. The highest and lowest rankings are thrown out, and the remaining four are averaged. Human rankings count more than computers in the formula. The USA Today and the Harris polls each count for one-third of the BCS average.
LSU is No. 1 in four of the six computer rankings. In the two others, Kansas is No. 1, followed by LSU. Taking all six into account, LSU is No. 1, and the Jayhawks are slightly ahead of Oregon. MU is No. 5, and Oklahoma ranks seventh.
The human polls change those rankings in the overall BCS standings. Oregon is No. 2, followed by Kansas, Oklahoma and MU.
But if the Jayhawks win their remaining games, they would probably overtake Oregon to advance to the national title game. They would have to defeat Iowa State and Missouri to win the Big 12 North, and then beat Oklahoma, their likely opponent in the Big 12 title game.
Experts agree with this scenario, including Richard Billingsley, who runs one of the six computer rankings used by the BCS.
“I believe an undefeated Kansas team would be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 and be in the championship game, whether they would be facing LSU, Oregon, West Virginia, Ohio State or Arizona State is too close to call,” he said in an e-mail.
Sportswriter Denny O’Brien agrees. He votes in the Harris poll, along with 113 former coaches, players and athletic administrators and former and current members of the media. In his latest ballot, O’Brien put LSU at No. 1, followed by Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia and MU. But if Kansas wins out, “It would be tough to exclude them from a national title game,” said O’Brien, who writes for a Web site (Bonesville.net) covering sports in eastern North Carolina.
If either MU or Oklahoma wins the Big 12, those teams would probably need Oregon to lose to play for the national title. Billingsley said it’s impossible to determine whether either team could overtake Oregon if the Ducks won their three remaining games against Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State. “There is still too much football left to be played,” he said.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino said his team is just focusing on what it controls — its performance on the field.
“We feel like rankings, bowl talk, all that stuff — (if we’re) focused and (take) care of our own business, if we do that, that is a by-product of it,” he said.
INJURY UPDATE: Since the Tigers are so healthy, Pinkel was superstitious during his press conference Monday. He knocked on wood, rapping his knuckles on his podium, when saying wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (bruised shoulder) and tight end Chase Coffman (ankle) are the only players with injuries. Both are minor, Pinkel said.