Missouri hosts rival Kansas with shot at Big 12 North crown

Friday, November 19th 2004, 6:51 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ After everything that has gone wrong, including a current four-game losing streak, Missouri still has a chance to reach the Big 12 Championship game.

The Tigers (4-5, 2-4) need wins in their final two games to become bowl-eligible and two wins and a Colorado victory at Nebraska on Nov. 26 to reach the championship game. The first step comes Saturday, when the Tigers host rival Kansas.

``Honestly, it's pretty remarkable,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. ``It's just one of those years that things are shaking out like they are. When you have the month that we had ...''

The Tigers have lost their past four games, blowing leads of 17 points to Oklahoma State and 21 to Kansas State along the way. Tailback Damien Nash said the Tigers, ranked No. 18 to start the season, should never have needed help from other schools to win the struggling North division.

``We put ourselves in that position,'' Nash said. ``And now we just have to get ourselves out of it.''

The rest of the North has mirrored Missouri's struggles. At best, the division winner will have a 5-3 record in league play, thanks in part to the North's 3-14 mark against the South. The only wins, by the Tigers, Iowa State and Nebraska, came against lowly Baylor.

``That's a surprise to a lot of people,'' tackle Scott Paffrath said. ``You have to give the South credit; they've played good football.''

What that means for the rest of the league is hard to determine, Nash said.

``It's crazy,'' Nash said. ``It's just not knowing what to say about the Big 12 North. Is it just that competitive or just that bad? You don't know.''

Kansas (3-7, 1-6) has also lost its past four games. Last Saturday, the Jayhawks blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a 27-23 home loss to No. 6 Texas.

``It was a really difficult loss and the kids in the locker room after the game were very distraught,'' coach Mark Mangino said. ``That's my job, as a coach, to make sure I do all that I can to show them the silver lining.''

Kansas' top three quarterbacks have been injured in the past three games, leaving Brian Luke to lead the offense. Luke fared well against the Longhorns, going 14-for-25 for 225 yards.

``Luke, shoot, I thought he played pretty good,'' Pinkel said. ``Our fourth-team quarterback isn't that good, I guarantee you that.''

The Kansas offense, the Big 12's worst statistically, will face the Big 12's best defense without starting running back John Randle, who leads the Jayhawks with 540 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Clark Green will replace Randle, who ``tore a muscle that is close to an organ'' against Texas, Mangino said.

Despite a patchwork offense and one win in their past eight games, Mangino said the Jayhawks will be ready for the 113th matchup with their border rivals.

``Our kids look forward to playing Missouri,'' Mangino said. ``There is an extra bounce in everybody's step around here.''

In a season filled with disappointment, Pinkel put all of his focus on the rivalry this week, suggesting a win against the Jayhawks would be more meaningful than reaching a bowl game.

``I think it's the biggest game on your schedule,'' Pinkel said. ``I think it always is; it has to be.''