'Cats, Tigers play for Big 12 North title

Down to the wire in the Big 12 North. Everything is riding on Today's game. Analysis inside.

Need a big win? Call the Tigers.

2001 — Kansas State needed a victory on the final Saturday to become bowl-eligible, and got it with a 24-3 win over Missouri.
2000 — The Wildcats needed a win to be co-champions in the Big 12 North and advance to the Big 12 title game, and got it with a win over Mizzou, 28-24.

1999 — K-State needed a win to be co-champions in the Big 12 North, and got it, 66-0, over MU.

1998 — Kansas State needed a final-Saturday victory over Missouri to complete an undefeated regular season and win the outright title in the Big 12 North, and got it, 31-25, over Missouri.

At the time of each of those games, Missouri was playing for little more than pride. Saturday at KSU Stadium, however, will be different. In a 6 p.m. start on TBS (Manhattan cable channel 29), 5-2 and 9-3 Kansas State will host 3-3 and 7-3 Missouri.

If K-State wins, the Wildcats win the Big 12 North outright and will play Oklahoma on Dec. 6 for the Big 12 championship in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.

Missouri wins, and then is the victor again on Nov. 29 against last-place Iowa State, the Tigers will tie the Wildcats for the title. By way of winning the head-to-head game, it would be Missouri that would challenge the Sooners for the Big 12 title.

In the last six games this season, MU has won, or lost, every other game, winning at home three times and losing on the road three times.

Kansas State has a five-game win streak, which includes a 38-9 victory over Nebraska last week.

Coach Bill Snyder says he doesn't fear a letdown: "I guess you could give some thought to it, but I would like to think that these youngsters have come through enough on both sides of the ledger that they understand what could happen in that respect. I would like to think it won't happen, but there is no guarantee."

K-State senior Nick Leckey called the game "paramount."
Sure, K-State has won each of the last 10 games from the Tigers by an average margin of victory of 23 points, but as senior linebacker Josh Buhl says, "This is a different game, a different year. We know we have something to achieve, but understand that they do as well."
The game will spotlight two multi-talented quarterbacks in Kansas State's Ell Roberson and Missouri's Brad Smith.

Roberson ranks second in total offense in the Big 12 averaging 274 yards per game — 79 rushing and 195 passing — accounting for 32 touchdowns.

Smith ranks fourth in the league in total offense averaging 265 yards — 109 rushing and 156 passing — accounting for 25 TDs.

On Smith, KSU coach Bill Snyder says, "He's very poised and has an understanding to what he is doing. He has great leadership. He has a great ability to run the football and he completes 61 percent of his passes. He's the complete package."

While Ell has been in many big games, Smith says of his Qbing counterpart, "He's (Roberson) where I want to be."

Coach Gary Pinkel raves about his own signal caller, but also knows that Roberson has been in big games before, and his man has not.
"He (Roberson) has the experience factor. He's been through the wars before," Pinkel said. "Brad Smith has not. It will be a whole different arena for Brad Smith."

The secondary offensive threats are runners Darren Sproles, a 5-foot-7, 188-pound junior for the Wildcats, and 5-9, 225-pound senior Zack Abron. Sproles rushes for 120 yards per game and has 13 scores; Abron averages 90 yards per game and has 11 TDs.

While the Tigers average 235 rushing yards per game to rank sixth in the nation, K-State's rush defense allows but 107 yards per game, which ranks 17th nationally.

With those being the stars, both sides are ready for action knowing fully that to the victor goes a trip to Kansas City to play for the Big 12 championship.

As defensive end Andrew Shull, one of 28 Wildcat seniors closing careers, said, "This is one of our goals we had at the beginning. It's something we wanted. It's what we've been working for, and now it's within our grasp. But the same is true with Missouri. We just have to go out and play with emotion and fire."

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