November 10, 2009

Tuesday Notebook: An old nemesis

Entering the 2006 season, Missouri had not beaten Kansas State in 14 years. Beginning with that game, the Tigers have pounded the Cats three straight times by a combined score of 131-77. What changed? The Cats' coach.

From 1989-92, the Tigers won three of the first four games they played against Bill Snyder. Over the next 13 years, Snyder beat the Tigers by an average score of 33.8 to 13.7. He beat them with good teams, he beat them with average teams and he beat them with bad teams (his last two squads brought up the rear in the Big 12 North). He beat them close (three times by six points or less), he blew them out (five times by three touchdowns or more). He lit up the scoreboard (66 points) and he beat them with defense (three shutouts and another game in which Mizzou scored just a field goal). He beat Bob Stull and Larry Smith and Gary Pinkel. But he beat the Tigers. Always.

Bad news, Tiger fans. After the Ron Prince intermission, he's ba-ack.

"I'm a Bill Snyder fan," Gary Pinkel said. "I have great respect for him, known him for years and this doesn't surprise me."

In a twist nearly unforeseeable before the season started, it is Pinkel's Tiger who go into this cat fight as the underdog. Kansas State is 4-and-2 in league play and control's its own destiny in the North. In fact, Saturday's game is immaterial in that chase. If the Wildcats win at Nebraska, they will win the division. Meanwhile, Pinkel's Tigers are 1-and-4 coming off a loss to Baylor and mathematically eliminated from a trip to the conference championship game.

"They're a well coached football team. They're playing real cons football and they're playing real good defense, they're running the football well and their kicking game's solid obviously with the ability of some of their players," Pinkel said. "The combination of all those things, that's why they're playing well and hats off to Bill, he does a great job."

The Wildcats have done exactly what Pinkel's Tigers have not: Gotten better throughout the season. After a 66-14 thumping by Texas Tech, KSU has rattled off three wins in four games. The lone loss was a 42-30 setback to Oklahoma in which K-State earned some serious respect around the league. They followed that up with a 17-10 win over Kansas last week.

"I don't try to make those kind of projections," Snyder said when asked if he thought his team could compete in the North after the loss in Lubbock. "Did I see as I reflect back anything that would have told me we would have done anything one way or the other? I can't tell you that I did. The guys have been very very responsive."

Meanwhile, Missouri came out of the gate with a 37-9 win over a favored Illinois team. They haven't reached the heights of that performance since.

"We came out as a young team and played, probably, really as good as you can play," Pinkel said. "That was almost my feeling when I came out of that game. I don't know how you can play a football game, even with an experienced team, kind of better than that."

"That got people a little high because nobody really knew where we was going to be this year," Derrick Washington said. "We came out firing on all cylinders in that game, you know? First, second half, we was going, we played extremely well. But we haven't done that (again) yet. It's crazy because we know how we can play, we know what we're capable of doing, but we haven't done it."

The Tigers hope they find that opening-game magic again in Manhattan. The last time they beat the Wildcats there with Snyder on the sideline was 1989. It was the seventh game of his coaching career.

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