If Thursday night's nationally televised showdown with Nebraska holds any special meaning to Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the former Husker commit isn't letting on.
"I'm just looking at this as another football game," said Gabbert. "It's our first Big 12 game and we're excited to play the game."
Putting all that aside, one thing is clear: this is a big game.
Thursday will be the sophomore's first Big 12 start, his first start against a ranked team and the highest ranked defense the signal caller has faced. And that team just happens to be the same he nearly signed with out of Parkway West High School in Ballwin, Mo. two years ago.
As a high school senior Gabbert was a blue chip quarterback with the strong arm, quick feet and prototypical size to make offensive coordinators drool and defensive coordinators throw clipboards. Rated a five-star recruit by Rivals and its No. 1 ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2008, he chose Nebraska and head coach Bill Callahan over a host of offers that included Alabama, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and the nearby Tigers.
But all that changed later that fall with Nebraska reeling in a five game losing game streak and talk of Callahan's imminent firing. Gabbert decommitted, instead choosing Missouri and instantly becoming the heir apparent to Chase Daniel and the Tiger's spread offense.
Flash-forward two years and Gabbert is the first-year starter of the 4-0, No. 18 and No. 22 ranked Tigers. And Gabbert's brother Tyler, a senior at Parkway West is a four-star quarterback committed to...Nebraska.
Yet, the quarterback says, none of that concerns him.
"We're locked in. We started out the non-conference how we wanted. We're 4-0. That's all in the past," he said. "Right now, we're focused on Nebraska."
Gabbert has looked every bit the blue chipper through four games of his sophomore season. In his first career start, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder connected on 25-of-33 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-9 Tiger win over Illinois. He added 256 yards and three more scores in a come-from-behind win over Bowling Green and 414 yards and three touchdown tosses in a 31-21 win over Nevada. So far this season, Gabbert has thrown for 1,161 yards and 11 TDs. More importantly, he has yet to throw an interception in 131 attempts.
So the focus is there - and off Gabbert and his former dalliance with Nebraska. So is Gabbert and his team perhaps more focused on this "rivalry game" than its four non-conference opponents?
"We have to be tuned in. It's October. You have to be locked in every game now," he said.
With the Huskers, Gabbert will see a young defense that has shown through four games it is much improved over its 2008 squad that gave up 462 yards in a 52-17 loss to the Tigers in Lincoln. Nebraska ranks 21st nationally allowing just over 285 yards a game so far this season.
"They're a smart, solid football team. They're very well coached defense and they execute their plays really well," Gabbert said.
But all of that tells Gabbert little of what he may face Thursday. On his weekly radio show last week, Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini was critical of his defensive game plan that featured a three-man front the Tigers' were able to exploit last year, perhaps hinting at playing the Tigers more "straight up" this time around.
"They're just going to do their stuff. We've been watching film all week, they mix things up here and there and I think they're going to stick with that," Gabbert said.