COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel pretended to be unaware that the path to a repeat Big 12 championship game may not go through Kansas City, after all.
Not very convincingly.
"What could happen? I don't know," Daniel said minutes after the 12th-ranked Tigers whipped Kansas State 41-24 in their home finale on Saturday night.
Of course, he knew. They all know that if form follows next weekend, the Nov. 29 neutral-site matchup against Kansas -- the game circled by fans for months as the battle for Big 12 North title for a second straight season -- will be nothing more than a tuneup for the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 Big 12).
Kansas (6-4, 3-3) dropped out of a tie for the North lead after losing 45-35 at Nebraska, a game that was over before the Kansas State-Missouri kickoff. The Jayhawks figure to be heavy underdogs at home against No. 4 Texas next Saturday, a result that also will be in the books before Missouri takes the field as a prohibitive favorite at Iowa State, winless in conference play.
Kansas loses, Missouri wins and the Tigers are guaranteed a third shot this season against the Big 12 South power base that knocked them out of the national title picture. And that's without a repeat of the drama at Arrowhead Stadium last season, when fans on both sides were on their feet throughout as the Tigers beat the Jayhawks.
Missouri has won three straight since losing at home to Oklahoma State and then getting blown out at Texas in consecutive games, but is unlikely to be complacent. The 3-point nailbiter at Baylor last week was far from completely satisfying, and despite rolling up 511 yards against Kansas State, the offense was not exactly clicking on all cylinders.
The Tigers leaned heavily on Jeremy Maclin's fleet feet on senior night, getting 278 all-purpose yards and three scintillating touchdowns. Third in the nation earlier in the season, they inched up one spot in the poll after that victory.
"We're 8-2, and now I just want to be 9-2," coach Gary Pinkel said. "We want to play our best football in November and there's a lot of things out there.
"But you've got to take care of your business."
Players vow they will do everything they can to realize their half of the rosy what-if scenario. Focus, harped on by Pinkel in the weeks after losing consecutive games, will not be an issue.
"A lot of things worked out for us," defensive end Stryker Sulak said. "We've got to go to Iowa State and take care of business. We can't overlook them. They're going to be playing their best game."
Daniel, whose first big victory was engineering a comeback at Iowa State in 2004, certainly appears motivated. All but one of Daniel's 10 interceptions have come in the last five games, including two against Kansas State that were offset by two touchdown passes to Maclin.
Daniel wasn't happy with Missouri's 5-for-13 third down conversion rate or bogging down inside the 20 to force a pair of short field goals by Jeff Wolfert that kept Missouri from its 46-point per game average.
"Expectations are high around here," Daniel said. "We've got to fix some things. I'm hurting the team right now and that can't happen.
"I know it looks like a blowout, but I've got to play better."
No one had any quibbles with a defense that throttled Kansas State until late, when the Wildcats scored two gratuitous touchdowns in the final 1:11 against backups. The defense has been much improved since the back-to-back losses, also shutting out Colorado.
Kansas State lame-duck coach Ron Prince, whose team has lost five of six, certainly was impressed.
"I think they're terrific," Prince said. "I think they're very underrated on their defensive front, a lot of really mature bodies."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)