Jayhawks, Missouri to meet for perhaps final time
Saturday, November 26, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Gary Pinkel will be back on the sideline for Missouri after serving a one-game suspension. Turner Gill will be on the Kansas sideline wondering whether he'll have a job next season.
Oh, and the Tigers and Jayhawks will be meeting for the 120th time on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, and quite possibly the final time. Missouri is headed for the SEC after this season, and Kansas repeatedly has said it has no intention of playing out of conference.
So there are story lines galore forming the backdrop for the annual Border War, a series that began in 1891 but in reality traces its roots all the way back to the Civil War, when pro-slavery secessionists from Missouri clashed with anti-slavery Unionists from Kansas.
"As a legacy, people are always going to talk about the last game played, so I think that is what brings about a little more significance to this game," Gill said. "It's the last opportunity to play in this type of situation, so it is very, very meaningful."
Pinkel will be calling the shots for the Tigers after missing last week's win over Texas Tech as part of the punishment handed down for a drunken driving arrest.
Pinkel, who is 6-4 against the Jayhawks, returned to work Thursday after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge. The coach received a 30-day suspended sentence and two years' probation, along with penalties handed down by the school that could cost him as much as $306,000.
"I've taken full responsibility for my lack of judgment and poor decision," Pinkel said. "Now it's up to me to begin earning everyone's trust and respect back."
That starts with Saturday's game against Kansas.
The Tigers began the season ranked in the Top 25 but plummeted after an overtime loss at Arizona State. It was the start of a rough stretch in which the Tigers later lost 38-28 at then-No. 1 Oklahoma and 24-17 at Kansas State. The Tigers (6-5) also lost at Oklahoma State and by a field goal at Baylor, leaving some wondering whether they would even become bowl eligible this season.
Missouri took care of that last weekend against Texas Tech, rallying from a 14-0 hole with a late touchdown and interception without its head coach on the sideline.
"I think we came together because of the foundation that Gary Pinkel has built," said defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who filled in as coach. "He has built it on a rock."
Missouri will be headed for its seventh straight bowl game regardless what happens Saturday, just the kind of sustained success that Gill hopes to achieve at Kansas.
The second-year coach has been under fire all season, nine straight losses raising questions about his job security, despite three years and $6 million left on his contract. Among them are a disheartening 13-10 loss to Iowa State and an overtime loss to Baylor in which Gill opted to go for the 2-point conversion and the win rather than kick the extra point and head to a second overtime.
But it's not the close losses that have drawn the ire of Jayhawks fans. It's been the lopsided ones, the 66-24 loss at Georgia Tech, the 70-28 defeat at Oklahoma State and last week's 61-7 loss to Texas A&M — the Aggies scored all their points in the first three quarters before pulling starters.
"I expect to be here for a long time," Gill said earlier this week.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger has said he'll wait until after the season to make a decision about the program's future, which means Gill could be coaching for his job Saturday.
He couldn't have a much bigger stage.
Kansas and Missouri are such bitter rivals that they can't even agree on the series record; the Jayhawks believe it's tied, 55-55-9, while the Tigers claim a 56-54-9 lead, owing to a disputed 1960 game in which Kansas won using an ineligible player.
Missouri coaches have claimed over the years that they would rather push their cars back across the state line if they ran out of gas than buy it in Kansas. Likewise, one Kansas coach years ago claimed that the Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill, who led a bloody massacre against Lawrence in 1863, graduated from the University of Missouri — it wasn't true, of course.
"When I choose to commit to KU, I got teased and heckled a lot," said Kansas defensive end Richard Johnson, who is from Jefferson City, Mo.
Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb, who hails from Union, Mo., has an aunt who was a cheerleader at Missouri. He said friends back home wished him luck when he headed off to college — with the caveat that they would root bitterly against him whenever he played Missouri.
"It adds to the magnitude of the game," Webb said. "We know it's for all the marbles and bragging rights for however many years to come. We're definitely going to take it to heart and come out and play inspired on Saturday."