Teams on fire
When Mizzou and Kansas clash, the stakes are even higher than usual (Update: Mizzou wins 36-28)
The heat is always on when Mizzou plays Kansas (and when players emerge from their locker room amid smoke during home games, as shown here), but in 2007 the game has both Big 12 and national title implications.
It would take some complicated calculations to figure out how many times sports writers have used the phrase “the first time since…” regarding Mizzou football this year. It’s the first time since 1960 that the team has won 10 games. It’s the first time since 1969 that the team has won six conference games. It’s the first time since 1989 that Mizzou beat K-State in Manhattan. It’s the first time since 1973 that a player (Jeremy Maclin, last week’s national offensive player of the game) returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in one season.
Add another to the list: When Mizzou plays Kansas this Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium, it will be the first time since — well, the first time ever — that the game has had national championship implications for both teams. Mizzou is ranked No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and has a record of 10-1, and Kansas is BCS No. 2 with a record of 11-0.
“This is a blast,” says Coach Gary Pinkel, despite admitting that he hasn’t been sleeping much. “This is what you do this for.”
The stakes are always high in this game — the second-most-played rivalry game in the country, with the teams having played 115 times. This year, though, it’s about more than just state pride. With a win, either team would clinch the Big 12 North divisional title and a spot in the conference championship game. And depending on how the BCS shapes up, Mizzou could go all the way to the national title game by winning the Big 12 Championship.
This man isn't the only one who needs tickets. Saturday's Mizzou-Kansas game at Arrowhead Stadium has long been sold out — since before people even realized what was at stake.
First things first, though, says quarterback Chase Daniel, a man with even more distractions than other players, considering he is a Heisman contender and a finalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
He and the team have to block out all the speculation and all the hype. “We just have to take care of winning football games,” he says, “and the rest will fall into place at the end of the season. All I can control right now is preparing as well as I can.”
Pinkel agrees. There's a valid reason "one game at a time" is a tried-and-true sports cliché. But maintaining focus doesn't mean he doesn't see the bigger picture.
"Everybody's going to remember the 2007 Missouri-Kansas game," he says.