It's the day before the Kansas University football team's regular-season finale, and visions of a plum bowl game aren't dancing through the Jayhawks' heads.
First and foremost, the Jayhawks say, is Oklahoma State, their final foe.
"This game is important whether we go to a bowl game or not," KU junior outside linebacker Chris Jones said. "Ending the last game on a loss would put a downer on everything we've worked for this season. It will definitely be a big game for us as far as morale carrying into any bowl game we might get in to."
No. 15 KU (8-2 overall, 4-2 in the Big Eight) is no lock to go bowling over the holidays. But a victory Saturday over Oklahoma State (3-7 and 2-4) would almost certainly send KU to the Dec. 29 Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Kickoff for KU-OSU is 2 p.m. at Lewis Field.
If KU loses Saturday, it might have to settle for a lesser bowl -- or no bowl at all.
"We haven't spent a lot of time thinking, talking about that stuff," said KU coach Glen Mason, who is expected to be announced today as a finalist for the Paul "Bear" Bryant national college football coach of the year award. "The only thing that we're focusing on is Oklahoma State. I'm a realist to know that these kids or these coaches or even myself are going to think about a bowl game. The only thing I can say is, 'You want to go to a bowl game? Beat Oklahoma State. Go 9-2, and I think that it's relatively safe that we'll go to a bowl game.'"
But where is still up in the air, as the Jayhawks are well aware.
"This game is going to affect where we go," KU senior inside linebacker Dick Holt said. "We're not going to settle for the Copper Bowl. It's not that it's a bad bowl, but we want to go to the best we can possibly go to. The main thing is going 9-2. Eight and three isn't good enough."
As far as first-year OSU coach Bob Simmons is concerned, the Jayhawks are plenty good.
While KU was suffering a 41-3 loss to No. 1 Nebraska last Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the 'Pokes were upending in-state rival Oklahoma, 12-0, in Norman.
"Kansas is a solid team," Simmons said. "We watched the films of them against Nebraska, and although the score did not indicate it, I thought Kansas did a good job of shutting down the running game. They're a solid football team on offense. On defense, they're very disciplined. They do a nice job of running to the ball and making big plays. We've got our work cut out for us."
The Cowboys are assured of their seventh straight losing season, but Simmons has served some sort of notice that OSU is a team on the rise. The Cowboys' three victories came over Southwest Missouri State, Missouri and OU. They lost to Tulsa by just a point and Kansas State by six. Then, against the Sooners, they threw their first shutout in 95 games.
"They're a very much improved football team, especially from midyear on," Mason said. "You can see that they've gotten better and better and better. After their big victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, I'm sure they're fired up. I'm sure they think they took a major step in the building of their program.
"They're playing hard. They're well coached. And they're a lot better than I'd like to have seen them at this point in the season."
- For a halftime update and the final score, call the J-W Sports Connection, 865-5000, category 6000