COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -Earlier this week, Kansas State coach Ron Prince said watching Missouri's Jeremy Maclin reminded him of Marshall Faulk and judged him a future first-round pick in the NFL draft.
Strong praise for a redshirt freshman, and perhaps well-timed for the Wildcats' game against the No. 6 Tigers on Saturday in the time-honored tradition of pumping up one's opponent? Or maybe Prince means it, because Maclin has dazzled plenty of opponents.
Certainly, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel does not hold back when discussing his good fortune of having such an electrifying presence in the Tigers' high-potency offense.
``He can turn a routine play into a great play just like that,'' Pinkel said. ``He's not going to do it all the time, but he's special. He's a gift.''
Make that the gift that keeps on giving. The X-factor in the offense, Maclin has seven touchdown receptions and four TD runs, plus he's second in the Big 12 with a 12.68-yard punt return average.
Missouri uses Maclin on kickoff returns, too, reasoning that every time he touches the ball he could go all the way.
Entering the Kansas State game, Maclin needs only 78 all-purpose yards to break the NCAA freshman record of 2,026 yards by Terrell Willis of Rutgers in 1993. He's on pace to break one of Faulk's records set at San Diego State in 1991 - 184.8 yards per game by a freshman.
M on Saturday that wrapped up a perfect 6-0 slate at home. He sprinted 82 yards on a routine sideline for a 24-9 lead near the end of the first half, on a play Pinkel said was designed to pick up perhaps a first down.
``You can't stay in bounds, you can't do what he did,'' Pinkel said. ``He's just so explosive and quick.''
The reception was the second-longest in school history and the longest since 1976.
``It went through my mind that I'm on the sideline and the worst thing that can happen is they can push me out of bounds and stop the clock,'' Maclin said. ``You see an opportunity like that, you've got to go for it.''
Maclin also was quick to credit wide receiver Will Franklin for the block that sprung him.
``I can tell you right now that if Will doesn't make that block, that play doesn't happen,'' Maclin said.
Then, late in the game, he caught a 12-yarder for the clinching touchdown after Missouri's lead had been shaved to five points. On this play he mixed athleticism with grit as he twisted, strained and finally stretched the ball into the end zone.
``When you get the ball that close, you think of one thing, and that's scoring,'' Maclin said. ``You've got to get in there. You can't get stopped at the 1-yard line.''
Maclin bruised a shoulder earlier in the year, and re-injured it on the score, although it's nothing that will slow him down on Saturday. Or even prompt him to consider wearing one the red hands-off jerseys for injured players during practice week.
``Knowing Jeremy, he will not want to be in red,'' Pinkel said. ``He's a very tough guy.''
Missouri (9-1) is having a dream season, its first nine-win total since 1969 and with at least three games to go with a chance to become the school's second 10-game winner. The 1960 team was 10-1 and got an 11th victory after Kansas forfeited a victory in the regular-season finale for using an ineligible player.
The Tigers' No. 6 ranking is their highest since 1979 when a team led by quarterback Phil Bradley made it to fifth. They're fifth in the BCS standings.
Maclin, one of the school's prime recruits in 2006, missed last year with knee surgery. After that absence, he appreciates this season's successes even more.
``I had never missed a game and I had to miss a whole season,'' Maclin said. ``You put so much work and effort into your rehab, you have a good chance of your leg coming back stronger and you being faster.''
M, Maclin caught five passes for 146 yards, rushed for 32 yards and totaled 89 yards on returns. He's looking forward to another day at the races.
``This is how good we knew we could be,'' Maclin said. ``Everything is going as planned.''

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