It's been a tale of two completely different seasons for the Kansas Jayhawks the last two years. 2007 was a fairytale for KU, with the team going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. Expectations were high coming into 2008, with many starters returning, including star quarterback Todd Reesing.
But this season hasn't gone as planned for Mark Mangino and the Jayhawks. KU has faced a significantly harder schedule, and while they've only lost a few players, those losses have been big. Kansas has stumbled to a 6-5 record and has lost four of their last five games.
But heading into their 11:30 showdown against Missouri this weekend in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, the Jayhawks will surely look to end their regular season on a high note. The Tigers and Jayhawks are bitter rivals, and both teams can greatly enhance their bowl eligibility with a win.
To be frank, this game means much less in the overall scheme of Missouri's season. The Tigers have already wrapped up the Big 12 North and have nine wins, more than enough to qualify for a respectable bowl. But 10 wins is a much nicer number than nine, and the Tigers look to keep bragging rights over Kansas for the third straight year.
Here are five keys to Missouri not only winning the game, but also gathering momentum heading into the Big 12 title game.
5. Chase Coffman
Chase Coffman hasn't played in four weeks, but he is still believed to be plagued by a sprained toe. Gary Pinkel has claimed he'll play, but then again, that's been the story in Missouri's last two games.
If Chase isn't 100 percent, he should NOT play. Missouri will absolutely need Coffman to have any chance in the Big 12 title game. They can beat KU without him. What Pinkel does with Coffman could dictate how Mizzou's season ends.
4. Throw the rock
KU's struggles against the pass have been well-documented this season, ranking 111th, something that obviously favors Missouri. Their run defense is fairly strong at 34th in the country, but if they can't stop Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and the rest of Missouri's spread attack, the game could get out of reach early.
Mizzou hasn't played the pass extremely well, but for direct matchups, look to the Nebraska and Iowa State games. Both teams passed much better against KU than Missouri. Pinkel and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen will look to expose KU's struggling secondary.
3. Win the turnover battle
Todd Reesing has 10 interceptions on the year, Chase Daniel 11. Both players will have to cut down on these numbers for their teams to win the game, Reesing especially. Kansas has run the ball well against lesser teams, but overall their run game has struggled.
Last year's Border War Showdown was swung in a big way when William Moore picked off a Reesing pass in the Kansas red zone. Turnovers could play a similar role this season if either team coughs up the ball with any frequency.
2. How healthy is Kansas?
A couple of weeks ago there were rumors that Reesing, wide receiver Kerry Meier, and running back Jake Sharp were questionable for the game. While all will probably play, these three being banged up will make a much larger difference than Chase Coffman playing hurt or not playing at all.
Meier has caught 27 percent of Reesing's completions. Sharp has accounted for over half of KU's rushing yards. If Kansas is 100 percent, a lot will have to go right for them to beat Missouri. If they're banged up, their chances are significantly worse.
Missouri was up 21 points headed into the fourth quarter of their game last season. They only won by eight. That is a direct responsibility of head coach Gary Pinkel, who has a habit of "calling off the dogs" late in games. Well, forget about it. If possible, Missouri should blow the wheels off KU.
If the game is a rout, put Blaine Gabbert in and have him and the reserves run an aggressive spread offense. A message should be sent that the Big 12 North is Missouri's.
Also, both teams have had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. Mangino and Pinkel are both heralded as intelligent and creative coaches. This weekend could say a lot about how each man has prepared his team and game plan. In such an intense rivalry, both teams will be fighting until the end, so the winner will have to play a complete game.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Kansas 27
I feel like I should pick this game in a blowout. Why? Let's look at the Nebraska matchup. The Huskers beat KU by 10 coming off an embarrassing loss to the 'Hawks last season. Nebraska looked foolish in Columbia last season and then laid an egg this year as well, to the tune of a 35-point loss.
KU is a talented team, but I look for weaknesses on the offensive line, secondary, and possibly health issues to stop their quest for a huge upset. Missouri shouldn't have a huge problem here.