No. 7 Mizzou, No. 14 Neb battle for B12 North lead

Missouri has always had Kansas, and Nebraska used to have

Oklahoma.

Though Missouri-Nebraska doesn’t have quite the same ring,

passions run as deep as any other rivalry when these teams get

together.

They’ve taken turns making and breaking each other’s seasons in

more than a century’s worth of hard-hitting games. Saturday figures

to be no different when the seventh-ranked Tigers (7-0, 3-0) and

No. 14 Cornhuskers (6-1, 2-1) play for control of the Big 12

North.

Adding some zest to this one: It’s the last football game

between the two before Nebraska heads to the Big Ten – the same

league Missouri had hoped to join during the summer’s conference

realignment.

”I just know growing up around it, and committing to Nebraska,

how much Missouri fans want to beat Nebraska every year and how

much they dislike Nebraska,” said Huskers linebacker Will Compton,

from Bonne Terre, Mo. ”It’s all in fun and I know in the end they

are pulling my leg about it, but at the same time there is a lot of

turmoil built between fans.”

The players aren’t especially fond of each other, either.

Back in 1982, Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill was knocked

unconscious. In 1979, I-back Jarvis Redwine claimed a knee injury

was the result of Missouri players intentionally diving at his

legs. Two years ago, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said a

Nebraska player spit on him.

Nebraska fans, not to mention Missouri fans, will never forget

the 1997 ”Miracle at Missouri” game. Matt Davison’s diving

end-zone catch of a ball popped into the air off teammate Shevin

Wiggins’ foot tied the game on the last play of regulation.

Nebraska won in overtime and went on to win a split national

championship in Tom Osborne’s last year as coach.

In 1978, James Wilder ran for 181 yards and four touchdowns in a

Missouri victory that dashed the second-ranked Huskers’ national

championship hopes.

From 1949-69, 16 of the games were decided by 10 points or less,

and one or both of the teams were usually ranked. The Huskers lead

the series 64-35-3, mostly on the strength of a 24-game win streak

that did nothing to endear them to Missouri fans.

”I feel there’s a big brother-little brother sentiment there,”

said Missouri graduate David Singleton, 32, of Las Vegas. ”There

is an air of arrogance, condescension about Nebraska fans. We’ve

livened up a little bit and claimed several games at the end of

this series, and it’s taken on a little more intensity.”

Singleton attended last week’s 36-27 win over then-BCS standings

leader Oklahoma. He said that victory means nothing if the Tigers

don’t beat Nebraska.

”This is the last shot, last chance,” Singleton said. ”We can

win the North if we take them out and give them a going-away

present.”

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is coming off back-to-back

300-yard passing games and will be going against one of the

nation’s top secondaries.

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has amassed huge rushing

statistics, but he’s yet to prove he can move the ball with

consistency against a top defense. The Tigers are fifth in the

nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and are allowing just 114

yards a game on the ground.

”We’re halfway in the season and it’s time to step it up a

little bit more,” Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith said. ”A lot

of teams get overconfident when they get ranked and once they beat

a couple of teams. We’re still hungry and we know we still have a

long way to go to reach our goals.”

Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said his players have a chemistry

unlike any of his previous teams.

”Our team is better than it was three weeks ago, and we keep

improving,” he said. ”Every coach wants his team to do that. It’s

less than 50 percent of the time that that happens. I feel

fortunate. Every week you play in this league, every game gets

bigger and bigger.”