Preview Kansas vs. Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -Kansas and Missouri first met on the football field in 1891 and have played 115 times since. The rivalry has always been fierce. This time around, it's also important. Really important.

There'll be a sellout crowd of nearly 80,000 frenzied fans Saturday night for the No. 2 Jayhawks and No. 3 Tigers, the biggest game ever played in the second-oldest rivalry in college football.

The victor is the Big 12 North champion and knows a win the following week in the conference title game will likely it into the national championship game. That would be an achievement neither Kansas nor Missouri has ever come close to.

A trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy announcement may well await whichever quarterback - Missouri's Chase Daniel or Kansas' Todd Reesing - trots away a winner. Neither school has had a Heisman winner.

The Jayhawks and Tigers trace the roots of their feud all the way back to pre-Civil War days on the Western frontier when free state Kansas warred against slave state Missouri and each side piled up atrocities against the other.

These two are so quarrelsome, they can't even agree on the overall series record. Ask a Jayhawk fan, and he'll say Kansas leads 54-52-9. Tiger followers swear it's knotted up at 53-53-9.

When they played their first football game against each other in 1891, monarchies still ruled Europe. The NCAA didn't even exist. Young men have butted heads in Kansas-Missouri games and later marched away to fight in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

So many years and so many games encompassing such a broad swath of American history - and never was so much at stake for players, coaches and fans as there will be at Arrowhead Stadium.

The game being at Arrowhead has also added to the once-in-a-lifetime excitement that's been building for weeks. The schools agreed 11 months ago to bring their game to Arrowhead in '07 and '08 because Kansas City is the epicenter of their historically impassioned rivalry. Between them, Missouri and Kansas have about 90,000 alumni in the metropolitan area.

Now, although Kansas City Chiefs officials don't want to hear it, this has become the biggest game in Arrowhead's history, too. Besides the nearly 80,000 people inside, as many as 15,000-20,000 could be milling about in the parking lot.

"At this point in time," Kansas defensive coordinator Bill Young said, "this is the biggest game there ever has been."

Without a doubt, it's the most important football game Kansas (11-0, 7-0 Big 12) ever played. Until now, the Jayhawks' major claim to athletic fame has been the NCAA basketball championship banners that hang in Allen Fieldhouse.

For Missouri (10-1, 6-1), which has never won an NCAA basketball title, it's the most important sporting event of any kind.

"Everybody's going to remember the 2007 Missouri-Kansas game. Forever," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "This is what you do this for. It's going to be quite a night."

Kansas, not even ranked until after the fifth game, is a 3-point favorite.

The quarterbacks are undersized Texas natives having tremendous seasons in yardage-gobbling spread offenses.

Reesing, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, has amazing quickness, vision and poise. While leading the Jayhawks to their first 11-win season, he's thrown for 2,910 yards and 30 touchdowns and been intercepted only four times.

Daniel, a 6-0 junior, has thrown for 3,590 yards and 30 touchdowns and been intercepted nine times while leading the Tigers to their first 10-win year since 1960.

"I just see two winners," Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "Everybody has been talking about their height, but you can't really measure the heart. Chase is out there playing hard every week making plays. Todd Reesing is leading his team and making plays. I see similarities. They're both real good quarterbacks."

With such efficient, accurate quarterbacks, both teams have stayed remarkably mistake-free. Kansas leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-21 and is tied for fewest penalties per game at 4.18. Missouri ranks second in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game with just 32.82. Missouri's plus-10 turnover margin is 13th nationally.

Kansas is second in the nation with a 45.8-point scoring average and second nationally with a 14.2-point scoring defense.

Missouri is sixth nationally with a 42-point average and the only school in the country to score at least 30 points in every game.

The Tigers also have a spectacular weapon in Jeremy Maclin, who's broken the NCAA freshman record for all-purpose yards and had a 99-yard kickoff return last week at Kansas State.

"It's a dream come true to play in a game like this," Missouri wide receiver Will Franklin said. "A bowl atmosphere against your rival. There's no better way that you can finish than that. We're ready for it."

The Associated Press News Service

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