For both players and fans, this is a big one

Okay, sure, maybe the roster of the University of Kansas football team isn't dominated by native sons of the Sunflower State.

In fact, of the 104 players listed on the official roster posted on the Web site of the Kansas athletic department, just 28 of them hail from Kansas – barely more than 25-percent of the total. The state of Texas lays claim to the largest percentage of the team, with its 37 Jayhawks.

But no matter where they come from – be it Kansas, Texas or Timbuktu – they all understand the importance of the Sunflower Showdown.

"It's a big game for us, the university, the fans, everybody," said junior wide receiver Daymond Patterson, himself a native of Mesquite, Texas. "Just because we don't have as many players as you would think (from Kansas) for a Kansas team, there still are a lot and it's important to them. So we rally around them this week just like how they rally around us when we're excited to go play back in Texas and our hometowns."

Kansas and Kansas State have opened the 2010 season on divergent paths. While the Jayhawks have ridden a roller coaster to a 2-3 mark, the Wildcats exploded from the gates to a perfect 4-0 record, before running into the wrecking ball that is the Nebraska Cornhuskers last week.

That's motivation in and of itself, said senior cornerback and team captain Chris Harris. To hear students and people around town talking about how the Jayhawks are down but the Wildcats are 4-1 gives this team an even greater sense of purpose heading into tonight's game.

"We hear stuff like that, so the rivalry is definitely still there," he explained.

Of course, to the native Kansans on the roster the game will likely carry an extra measure of significance.

One who will likely see a fair amount of playing time tonight is freshman Riley Spencer. A mammoth offensive tackle hailing from Hesston, Kan. – population 3,509 – he noted that as a high schooler, his hometown seemed fairly split right down the middle.

It wasn't until he realized he had a future in college football, and that Kansas was where he wanted to take his game, that he himself got caught up in the excitement and banter of the rivalry.

"As I got into high school and started to really look into coming to KU and really liking everything surrounding it, I got onto the whole 'getting excited for game week' (experience)," Spencer said. "My parents very shortly followed, really kind of getting into it. It's just been so exciting now to have an opportunity to be on the sidelines for this game."

The coaching staff is aware of the amped up emotions bleeding over from the fanbase and onto the team, and Head Coach Turner Gill said this week that though this would be his first Sunflower Showdown, he could already tell it was a "special rivalry."

"But more importantly, we all understand this is the next game," Gill added. "So we need to get better as a football team."

The Jayhawks and Wildcats kick off tonight at 6:30 P.M. The game will be televised on Fox Sports. Top Stories