Manhattan Everyone involved with today's Kansas-Kansas State football game knows it's the biggest meeting in the teams' not-so-storied history.
Everyone, that is, except KU coach Glen Mason.
When the Sunflower State was defining football futility in the late 1980s, this matchup was derisively dubbed the Toilet Bowl. Today, the two teams will instead posture for more prestigious bowls and -- dare they say? -- a possible Big Eight championship.
But Mason will hear none of it.
"When you have a true rivalry, which I think this is, those other things are secondary," Mason said."This game should be played with the same intensity if neither team had won a game, if it wasn't going to be a packed house, if there's wasn't going to be media attention, if a bowl game didn't lie in the balance and all those other things.
"I think those things are secondary. ... This game should be played with great emotion and enthusiasm because it's KU versus K-State, period. And I think you insult the rivalry if you insinuate anything else that lies in the balance makes it more important."
Kickoff is 12:10 p.m. today at KSU Stadium. The game will be televised live locally on channels 5 and 27.
At the risk of insulting the rivalry, here's what lies in the balance:
- A big-time bowl bid. No. 6 KU (7-0 overall, 3-0 in the league) and No. 14 K-State (6-1, 2-1) both are making a play for a New Year's bowl.
- The Big Eight championship. A second loss would doom K-State, while a KU loss would put league-title hopes on the rocks.
- National exposure. If KU wins and Nebraska beats Colorado, then both Kansas and NU win next week, the KU-NU game in two weeks almost certainly would be aired on ESPN or ABC as what amounts to the Big Eight championship game.
As far as Mason is concerned, the only difference between this Sunflower Showdown and the ones that went before is that the Toilet Bowl jokes have lost their humor.
"I felt very bad for the players my first two years here," he said. "I felt very bad for jokes like, 'Good news, bad news. The good news is, I've got tickets for the KU-K-State game. The bad news is, I have to use them.' I don't hear anybody saying that this week."
The 'Cats bring to the showdown the nation's best defense, which allows just 219.6 yards per game. KSU also ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense at 13.4 points per game.
"They're the No. 1-ranked defense in the country," Mason said. "They must be pretty good. They were pretty good last year. I think that's the story of their success. Not that they haven't done a good job offensively, because they have. But (defense) has been the big difference over there in Manhattan."
And offense, K-State coach Bill Snyder said, has been the big difference this season over in Lawrence. KU enters with the nation's 21st-best scoring offense (31.4 points per game) and the nation's 28th-best team in total offense at 421 yards per game.
"I think it's more balanced," Snyder said. "That makes it a little more complicated than any we've faced, including Nebraska."
When K-State has the ball, it likes to throw it. Wildcat quarterback Matt Miller leads the Big Eight in passing yards (1,300) and passing touchdowns (14).
"The thing about Miller is, he has a lot more mobility than they've had at that position," Mason said. "They move him around quite a bit more. He's not hesitant to pull the ball down and run with it, which presents a different problem than we've faced with them in the past."
He'll be throwing against a KU defense that ranks 40th nationally in pass efficiency but ninth nationally in scoring defense (15.5 points per game).
"They've picked it up," K-State senior tight end Brian Lojka said. "They don't have the biggest guys. They don't have all the speed in the world. But they've got some players. They get the job done."
- For a halftime update and the final score, call the J-W Sports Connection, 865-5000, category 6000