COMMENTARY: Missouri finally ready to talk about Kansas

Saturday, November 17, 2007 | 6:48 p.m. CST; updated 1:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Chase Daniel had a subject to raise with coach Gary Pinkel during the final minutes of Missouri’s 49-32 victory against Kansas State.

It’s been a popular topic of conversation lately, one that Daniel felt he could finally join.

“Coach, believe it or not, now we’re allowed to start talking about Kansas,” Daniel said.

“The game isn’t over yet,” Pinkel joked.

When it did end, the team joined an impromptu party, congregating with its fans in the southeast corner of the field. The black-and-gold revelers in the stands started to chant, “Beat KU!” Then the Kansas State fans joined in, wishing suffering on their undefeated rivals. Players raised their helmets, bathing in the momentary glory before their preparation begins for the Jayhawks.

“I’m already looking at KU film in my mind,” Daniel said after the game. That’s all Daniel will study next week. Without classes, because of Thanksgiving, the Tigers (10-1, 6-1 Big 12 Conference) will have no interruptions while they get ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas (11-0, 7-0) at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. The Kansas City Chiefs’ home has hosted big games before. But this time some of the fans will leave happy — unlike Chiefs’ fans sulking after countless playoff collapses.

You can call this matchup the Game of the Century. That’s not an exaggeration. It was almost 100 years ago when MU and Kansas last played with more than just a bass drum at stake. The Missouri Valley Conference championship was on the line. In 1909’s season finale, the Tigers handed Kansas its first loss in a 12-6 victory to claim its first MVC title.

More illustrious titles await Saturday’s winner, who will claim the Big 12 North title and advance to the Big 12 Championship in San Antonio, where it will likely face Oklahoma. But the Border Brouhaha is also an unofficial quarterfinal — the closest college football will ever get to the Elite 8 — after Oregon’s stunning defeat against Arizona on Thursday.

“How about next week? It’s the playoffs, man,” defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams said.

Last weekend, after Ohio State’s loss to Illinois, Oregon moved up to No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks were guaranteed a spot in the national title game if they won their remaining games. Kansas, Oklahoma and MU were stuck directly behind Oregon, hoping for an upset. Arizona granted that wish Thursday, and now the Big 12 champion will probably get to play for the title of No. 1.

You can stop rubbing your eyes now. It’s true. If the Tigers win their next two games, they will likely play for the national title, reversing their cursed fortunes.

Throughout history, MU has witnessed stunning tricks. With stunts that would impress Houdini, opponents have escaped certain losses against the Tigers and survived to win national titles. In that eerie north end zone at Faurot Field, a fifth down appeared for Colorado in 1990, and a kicked ball levitated for Nebraska in 1997. In Boise, Idaho, in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, UCLA point guard Tyus Edney whisked down the court and banked in the winner in just under 4.8 seconds.

But this year, MU has the magic, especially on offense. The Tigers are the only team in Division I-A to score more than 30 points in every game this year. Their opponents have been dazzled.

“I clearly feel after today that we played a team that has a legitimate shot chance from a talent standpoint, an organizational standpoint to win the national championship,” Kansas State coach Ron Prince said.

But to reach that pinnacle, the Tigers will have to put on a better show than they did against the Wildcats. They were sluggish in the first half, letting the Wildcats keep up with them. They gave up 157 yards rushing in the first half and led only 21-18 at halftime. They know such a half-hearted effort will cost them against Kansas.

“We know we have to come out a little bit stronger,” Williams said.

But after impassioned halftime speeches from the captains, including injured safety Pig Brown, the Tigers scored on their opening drive and coasted to victory. That excitement carried over to the locker room after the game when the Tigers got pumped up for their battle against the Jayhawks.

“It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be fun,” Pinkel said after the game, sounding like he was headed to a party.

Then he paused for a question. “Sounds like you might have a little extra energy this week?” a reporter asked.

“I’ll be calmed down by Monday,” he replied, laughing.

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