November 21, 2007

Fritch's Big 12 Tour: Showdown time

Feeling a bit squeamish in the gut? Around the Big 12 this week, if it's not due to excitement, it's due to angst (or too much cranberry sauce). While eyes will be on Texas-Texas A&M on Friday, who would have ever thought the Lone Star Showdown would serve as an appetizer for Missouri-Kansas on Saturday night? The Border Showdown has never seen anything quite like this, where, hey, the only thing on the line is a dream season.

And the right to represent the North in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 1. And continuing hopes of reaching the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

And, oh, by the way, Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium sold out a month ago. And the ESPN College GameDay guys will exhaust part of two hours Saturday unraveling this War-and-Peace sized tale to a nation that never knew the nation's second-oldest rivalry could be so sexy.

Put it this way: Missouri and Kansas players would do best wearing blinders and cranking up those iPods until the 7 p.m. kickoff.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino, whose No.2-ranked Jayhawks (No. 2 BCS) are 11-0 for the first time in school history and are the only undefeated team from a BCS conference, believes his team can handle the hype. It's shadowed Kansas the last several weeks, you know.

"We're not going to pretend there isn't a lot of build-up for this game," he said. "They know that. We've told them to enjoy this experience. We've told them over the last several weeks to enjoy the winning and everything that comes with it. You can enjoy it and still stay focused on the task at hand.

"Our players will, there's no doubt in my mind."

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose No. 3-ranked Tigers (No. 4 BCS) look to become the first in school history to win 11 games, instituted a hype-curbing method among his seniors (his "watchdogs") that he calls "distraction control." He said it played an integral part in Missouri winning its last five games to set-up this opportunity.

"Coming off that Oklahoma loss (41-31 on Oct. 13) I had a feeling and our players knew Kansas was so good that they very possibly were going to go undefeated," he said. "So the last five weeks we knew we couldn't lose. Our players handled this build-up well leading to this game. Hopefully we're mature enough to focus on what will help them prepare the best and not get caught up in all the other stuff."

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