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Annual border showdown a Tigers tuneup this time

Kansas vs. Missouri was one of the biggest games of the season last year. The Tigers clinched their first Big 12 North title and spent the next week ranked No. 1.

Most of a sellout crowd in Kansas City, a neutral site with an even mix from both schools, was on its feet the entire game. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel remembers the setting as a “perfect storm,” No. 2 Kansas entering at 11-0, No. 4 Missouri toting a 10-1 record with a Heisman Trophy candidate who led his team to a 36-28 victory.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to a game like that ever again, with the implications that it had,” quarterback Chase Daniel said.

“Everything fit,” Pinkel said. “Will it ever happen again? I don’t know.”

On Saturday, the 12th-ranked Tigers and Jayhawks meet again at Arrowhead Stadium under less dramatic circumstances. Missouri (9-2, 5-2 Big 12) clinched its second straight North title two weeks ago and Kansas (6-5, 3-4), sagging with four losses in its past five games, represents a mere tuneup opportunity before the Big 12 championship game next weekend in Kansas City.

The beauty of this game is it’s always huge for the fans, even if one or both seasons have been a dud.

“It’s a great rival game, two teams that hate each other, so we definitely want to go out and play our best game,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “That’s one team I can honestly say I don’t like.”

It’s important enough for Kansas that former coach Don Fambrough delivers an annual pre-game speech.

“It’s fun and the players enjoy listening to him,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. “He gets really excited about this game and he’s earned the right to say what he wants to say about it.”

The likely emphasis at Kansas is the Jayhawks’ chance to solidify their bowl standing and keep the Tigers from reaching double digits in victories for a second straight year.

“It’s been kind of a rough season,” Kansas linebacker Joe Mortenson said. “But we have great chance to get a big win against Mizzou and get things moving in the right direction. We’re looking forward to going out there again on national TV showcasing our skills.”

Missouri is likely to remember last year’s bowl snub, too. After Missouri won the North but lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, the Tigers fell to the Cotton Bowl while vanquished Kansas landed an at-large BCS berth in the Orange Bowl.

Missouri appears to have recovered from consecutive midseason losses to Oklahoma State and Texas that knocked the Tigers out of the Top 10 and national title contention. Missouri is coming off a 52-20 blowout at Iowa State and have won four in a row, struggling only in a 3-point win at Baylor during that stretch.

Like Kansas, Missouri had last weekend off. Pinkel livened up practice last Thursday by presenting players with the Big 12 North trophy, a ceremony designed to let them relish the achievement before getting back to business.

“I think our players really felt good about it, putting it in the trophy case,” Pinkel said. “I wanted to make a big deal to them, but I wanted to get it over with and move on. There’s a lot of stuff left.”

No matter what happens on Saturday and or who emerges from the power Big 12 South threesome of Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Missouri will be an underdog in the conference championship game. That’s for next week. Pinkel said he didn’t have an opinion on who he’d like to play.

Daniel said the three-way race in the South was “a very unique situation,” but of absolutely no concern for Missouri players.

“We don’t even care,” he said. “We’re so worried about the KU game. If we get caught up in that, our whole season will be a failure.”

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