Missouri is a 22 1/2-point favorite to defeat Kansas University when the rivals meet Saturday in Columbia, Mo.
To hear Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel talk about his team's homecoming game, one might think the Tigers were preparing for a New Year's Day bowl.
"It's the most important game on our schedule every year," Pinkel said Monday during the Big 12 teleconference. "We all understand the importance and magnitude of this game."
That importance isn't undermined by the fact both teams are winless in league play.
"I don't think that matters at all," Pinkel said. "I think it makes the game that much more important. They're rebuilding. We're building, but this games stands out on our schedule more than any other game we'll play. It always will, regardless of whether the program is built or building."
The Tigers appeared to be making strides when they finished 4-7 last year in Pinkel's first season. MU (3-4, 0-3 Big 12) won three of its first four games this year before suffering 31-24 and 24-13 losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska. Texas Tech made it three losses in a row with 52-38 win Saturday at Lubbock, Texas.
KU (2-6, 0-4) also has lost three straight.
"I don't care if you're first in the nation or last in the nation or what your stats are on offense, defensive or anything," Pinkel said. "Rivalry games are generally emotional-type games. I think this rivalry is no different. You'll see both teams play at their highest emotional levels."
Those emotions stem from more than a century of dislike, distrust and good, old-fashioned hate. The teams have met 110 times with Kansas holding a 51-50-9 edge. But long before the gridiron Border War, abolitionist Kansans and pro-slavery Missourians were battling during the Civil War era.
"A year ago I spent a lot of time with it," Pinkel said. "When I first got here, I quizzed people and players about the rivalry, and for some reason, they didn't know very much. It was a bit disturbing to me. I would suggest by the time we played the game last year, our players understood it. I would also suggest that these players will be remembered for their record against KU. That's the way it is.
"That's a responsibility and burden that is placed on them, and they have to understand that. I'm sure they feel that way on the other side. That's what rivalries are all about."
Don't worry, Coach. Your players get it.
"From what coach Pinkel and the rest of the guys have told me, this is the most important game of the year," said freshman quarterback Brad Smith, who will face the Jayhawks for the first time. "We hear about it everywhere we go. People tell us, 'If nothing else, beat KU.' It's amazing to see how big of a rivalry this is."