|No. 1 Tigers to play biggest game in school history against No. 9 Sooners|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 30 November 2007 13:05|
The Big 12 North champions are ranked No. 1, their quarterback is getting serious talk about the Heisman Trophy and if the Tigers can beat No. 9 Oklahoma in the league title game Saturday night, they'll play for the national championship.
Good times for a team that hasn't won a conference football championship since 1969 and wasn't even ranked when the season started.
Now Tigers fans are streaming into the Alamo City to join the party, dancing to the mariachi music and slugging back margaritas on the Riverwalk as cool-headed and cleft-chinned quarterback Chase Daniel and teammates steady themselves for the biggest game in Missouri (11-1) history.
Last week's victory over bitter rival Kansas may have felt like the mountaintop, but the games, and the stakes, keep getting bigger.
Lose to OU - the team that has all but owned the Big 12 in recent years - and it all falls apart.
``We're excited about being here,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Friday. ``We're putting everything we have in this championship game. All that stuff will sort itself out later on.''
The Sooners (10-2) won the South Division. They've watched the hysteria bubbling up around the Tigers. And they walk into the Alamodome with the cool swagger that comes with having already beaten Missouri once this season behind a coach with a terrific record in Big 12 title games.
Since 2000, the Sooners are 4-1 in league championship games, including last year's win over Nebraska. Their only loss was in 2003 when they still went on to play for the Bowl Championship Series title.
It's earned coach Bob Stoops the nickname ``Big Game Bob,'' and is part of the reason why the Sooners are slight favorites to beat the Tigers.
``It doesn't hurt,'' Stoops said of the Sooners' success. ``It gives you a degree of advantage, but you win or lose on merit.''
Oklahoma beat Missouri 41-31 on Oct. 13, a game the Tigers feel they should have or could have won if not for some late turnovers. Missouri led 24-23 going into the fourth quarter.
``We definitely shot ourselves in the foot and didn't give ourselves a chance to win the football game with those turnovers,'' Missouri tight end Martin Rucker said.
Daniel has been unflappable and unstoppable since then. He's thrown for 3,951 yards and 33 touchdowns this season to join Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden as favorites for the Heisman.
His 40-of-49 passing for 361 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas was a clinic in efficiency. Now he's back in his home state playing in a stadium where he won a high school state championship.
Pinkel said he expects his junior quarterback to shrug off the Heisman talk until after the game.
``This isn't about him winning an award, it's about us trying to win a championship,'' Pinkel said.
If the Sooners are vulnerable, it's in the secondary where Texas Tech ripped Oklahoma for 420 yards passing two weeks ago in an OU loss that ended its national title hopes.
For their part, Oklahoma players chafed this week at suggestions the Tigers lost the previous meeting rather than giving the Sooners credit for winning it.
``We won, so whatever they want to say, they can say that,'' receiver Juaqin Iglesias said. ``But we won the game.''
The Sooners note their defense had something to do with beating the Tigers with blitzes that caused two interceptions and a tipped pass leading to another.
They also got a tremendous season from their quarterback, Sam Bradford, who set an NCAA freshman record with 32 touchdown passes.
``Obviously we couldn't have asked for much more,'' Stoops said. ``The guy is exceptional.''
The game will draw plenty of interest more than 1,000 miles to the north in Columbus, Ohio.
If the Tigers win, they'll earn a trip to the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in New Orleans. If they lose, or if No. 2 West Virginia loses to rival Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Buckeyes will likely sneak into the title game.
For Ohio natives Pinkel (Akron) and Stoops (Youngstown), it means a lot of folks back home are watching what they're doing.
``I know everybody in the state of Ohio wants me to lose,'' Pinkel said.