A victory in the Big 12 title game would assure the No. 2 Jayhawks (11-0) a berth in the BCS national championship in New Orleans on Jan. 7. And No. 3 Missouri (10-1) would have a shot as well to play for the grand prize if the Tigers took home the Big 12 crown, although the Tigers are currently No. 4 in the BCS standings.
This Border Showdown is so big that Sports Illustrated features the Jayhawks on the cover this week with a preview of the most talked about game of the year in college football.
This game is so big that ESPN GameDay will be at Arrowhead Stadium broadcasting its show from 9-11 a.m.
This game is so big that every national media outlet will surely be covering the titanic clash.
This game is so big that tickets are reportedly going for over $400.
And it all begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The spotlight has never been brighter for Kansas football, and the Jayhawks are ready to shine.
"I'm extremely happy for our players,” said KU coach Mark Mangino. “They deserve it (attention). They have worked hard. They have invested in this program and they deserve the opportunity to play at center stage. ...Those kids who came on faith and believed in what we were doing, their opportunity is here.”
Kansas will be facing a Missouri team which has won five straight games and is looking to win 11 games in a season for the first time in school history. MU, which ranks fourth in the country in total offense, is led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel, plus talented receiving targets Martin Rucker (70 receptions), Jeremy Maclin (59 receptions), and Chase Coffman (49 receptions).
Maclin is a dynamic freshman receiver/return man who leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 2 in the NCAA in all-purpose yards. He holds the NCAA freshman single-season all-purpose yardage record (2,309 yards).
And then there is Daniel. The junior has completed 309-of-446 passes (69.3 percent) for a whopping 30 touchdowns. He ranks in the top 10 nationally in eight statistical categories, including touchdown passes, completions per game, and total offense.
“I am very impressed with Chase Daniel,” Mangino said. “He's in command of things, he's poised. He throws the ball very accurately, he throws it well. He reads coverages well. He's a very, very talented player. He has a lot of people around him, a good supporting cast.”
Missouri leads the Big 12 in scoring offense in conference play, followed by Kansas. On the flip side, KU ranks first in scoring defense in league games, while MU is second. The Tigers are giving up just 21.9 points per game in Big 12 play.
“They have really big physical guys on the line,” Mangino said. “Their linebackers are good players, they're physical players. They play downhill. Their secondary is good. It has some really talented players. Their corners, (Carl) Gettis and (Darnell) Terrell are outstanding players. (Sean) Weatherspoon (linebacker and team leader with 108 tackles) runs very well.”
Kansas has some fine defensive players as well like celebrated cornerback Aqib Talib. The junior knows he and his teammates will have to play the game of their lives on Saturday.
“We're going to have to know our assignments and we're going to have to be 100 percent on everything if we plan on doing anything with them,” Talib said. “They have one of the best offenses I've seen since I've been playing football. They're nice from the tight ends to the wide-outs to the line to the quarterback and running back. They've got everything they need. It’s going to be a tough task.”
But it’s also a task Talib believes KU can handle. After all, he dreamed before the season began that the Jayhawks could go 12-0 and win the Big 12 North. Now, that time has finally arrived for the ‘Hawks.
"That was our first goal coming into the season,” said sophomore quarterback sensation Todd Reesing. “We wanted to compete and win the Big 12 North. Obviously we have the opportunity to seize that goal this Saturday."
KU is one step from playing for the Big 12 championship and two games away from playing for a national championship. While basketball season is heating up, for now, KU football holds center stage in Lawrence.
And that’s just fine with the KU hoopsters.
“It’s going to be real hyped,” said sophomore forward Darrell Arthur about the KU-MU game. “We’re not going to be able to go (to Arrowhead), but I’m going to watch it and support those guys. It’s going to be pretty fun.”
“I’m ready for the football team to go out there and put the pads on,” said senior forward Darnell Jackson. “It’s time to go to the gridiron.”
Indeed, it is. After all, it’s not very often that Kansas is involved in the game of the century.
Sophomore safety Darrell Stuckey believes only the strong will survive.
“It’s time to separate the boys from the men,” he said.