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November 23, 2007

Kansas, Mizzou look to keep title hopes alive

MORE: Reesing, Daniel thriving in spread
Who has the edge? | Video preview

How big is Saturday's Kansas-Missouri game?

"I hear tickets are going for as much as $400," Kansas defensive tackle James McClinton said. "That's Super Bowl money."

This matchup might not be college football's version of the Super Bowl, but it's about the closest thing we have to a playoff game.

The winner moves one victory away from a possible spot in the BCS national championship game. The loser might fall to the Cotton Bowl.

"It's a head-on collision that's finally here," Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said.

The tension surrounding Kansas-Missouri games is high even when the stakes are low, which traditionally was the case before this season. This marks the 116th meeting between these rivals (Minnesota and Wisconsin are the only schools that have played more often), but it's the first time since 1973 that both are ranked.

Kansas and Missouri have such a mutual dislike that they don't even agree on the results of their series. Missouri contends the schools have split their meetings 53-53-9. Kansas argues it owns a 54-52-9 edge by citing a 23-7 victory over a top-ranked Missouri team in 1960 that the Jayhawks later had to forfeit for using an ineligible player.

Although he grew up in Texas, Daniel learned the importance of this rivalry in a hurry. He was enjoying ice cream with Missouri quarterback coach David Yost during a recruiting visit when some Tigers fans recognized him and offered the following advice.

"They said, 'Beat KU all four years and we'll love you no matter what,' '' Daniel recalled.

Daniel helped the Tigers whip the Jayhawks 42-17 last season, but he will be facing a much better Kansas team this time. Kansas has moved into the No. 2 position in the BCS standings after winning its first 11 games by an average margin of 31.6 points.

A Kansas pass defense that ranked last in the nation in 2006 has picked off 20 passes this season to help the Jayhawks lead Division I-A in turnover margin (plus-21).

Then again, Missouri also has improved quite a bit in the past year. The Tigers (10-1 overall, 6-1 in the Big 12) are fourth in the BCS standings and have won five consecutive games by at least 14 points.

In fact, Kansas and Missouri resemble each other more than these heated rivals would like to admit.

Daniel and Kansas' Todd Reesing are undersized quarterbacks who have vaulted into Heisman Trophy consideration. Missouri's Jeremy Maclin is one of the nation's top multipurpose threats and return men, while Kansas' Marcus Herford has helped the Jayhawks lead the nation in kickoff-return average. Both teams are averaging more than 500 yards and 40 points per game.

"It feels like it's time to separate the boys from the men," Kansas strong safety Darrell Stuckey said.

There are two big differences between these teams. Kansas ranks second in the nation in scoring defense and eighth in total defense; Missouri is 58th in the nation in total defense and 97th in pass defense. Then again, Missouri has allowed many of its passing yards after taking big leads, which forced opponents to throw the ball.

Missouri also has faced the tougher schedule. Kansas didn't play a single nonconference game against a BCS-league school. The Jayhawks also have yet to face Oklahoma or Texas, though they could see one of those teams in the conference championship game. Missouri edged Illinois 40-34 in its opening game and lost 41-31 at Oklahoma in a game that may have set the stage for the Tigers' national-title run.

"After we watched the film, we (saw we) gave the ballgame away in the fourth quarter," Daniel said. "We were up. ... It was a turning point. We knew we could play with anyone in the nation if we just go out there, cut our mistakes down and go play."

This weekend should indicate whether the Tigers learned from the Oklahoma experience.

Steve Megargee is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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