AMES, Iowa (AP) -- It's the elephant in the Tigers locker room.
If Kansas loses to No. 4 Texas on Saturday afternoon and 12th-ranked Missouri beats Iowa State, the Tigers will clinch the Big 12 North and a spot in the conference title game on Dec. 6.
Of course, Missouri (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) has to get past the Cyclones first.
That doesn't figure to be a difficult task, since Iowa State (2-8, 0-6) has lost eight in a row. But the Tigers insist that the Cyclones, and not the Big 12 title game, has to be their main focus.
"That's a distraction. They're all aware of that, we know that," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We've been through this a little bit before, we've handled it well sometimes, and maybe sometimes we haven't. Bottom line is, we have to play well."
Missouri has done just that since falling out of the national title hunt.
The Tigers blasted Colorado 58-0 to erase a two-game losing streak, and after surviving a scare at Baylor they thumped Kansas State 41-24 in a game that wasn't nearly that close.
Missouri's three-game winning streak, combined with Nebraska's win over Kansas last week, has put the Tigers on track for their second straight North title.
Missouri sealed the North in 2007 by going 4-0 in November, and the Tigers are looking to repeat that feat.
"November is the month to remember, that's how it's been since I got here. Last year, this team really took on the mantra of that. We just have to keep it up," quarterback Chase Daniel said.
On paper, this one looks like a mismatch in favor of the Tigers, who are four-touchdown favorites. The Cyclones have one of the nation's most porous defenses, while Missouri is fourth in the nation at 45.1 points per game.
The Tigers lead the nation with just seven three-and-outs, and they've scored 49 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals on the 104 drives led by Daniel. Only 19 of those drives have ended in punts, meaning that the Tigers are three times more likely to score than they are to punt with Daniel behind center.
That's efficiency -- and few teams in the country allow quarterbacks to get more comfortable than Iowa State does.
The Cyclones are allowing 217 passing yards per game, and they rank 115th out of 120 teams with a pass efficiency defense rating of 163.8. The last five teams Iowa State has faced have completed at least 20 passes, and the Cyclones have just three interceptions in six league games.
Defense like that, combined with an offense that's pedestrian by Big 12 standards, has sent Iowa State into a free fall. The Cyclones have just two chances left to avoid going winless in conference play for the first time since 2003.
One thing Iowa State has going for it is that it held the Tigers to a season-low 366 yards in a 42-28 loss in Columbia last season.
"We're going to try to stand in the way of clinching that Big 12 North championship," Iowa State coach Gene Chizik said. "We're going to go back and look and see what we did good last year and what we did not so good and make a game of this thing."
But while Iowa State's hopes for an upset seem slim at best, there are reasons for hope.
For starters, it's expected to be a rather miserable night in Ames, with temperatures hovering in the high 20s and gusty winds. Oklahoma discovered last year how much weather can hamper the passing game at Trice Stadium, as quarterback Sam Bradford struggled and the Sooners barely escaped, winning 17-7.
There's also the lesson learned from the Missouri-Iowa State game in 2006 in Ames, one that's still on the minds of the Tigers.
Missouri came in at 7-3 while the Cyclones were dead men walking -- winless in the Big 12 and playing their final game under former coach Dan McCarney, who had resigned with two games left.
But Iowa State, thanks to a holding penalty that nullified an apparent game-winning touchdown from Daniel with less than a minute left, stunned the Tigers, 21-16.
"It was their last game and (they) won it for Coach McCarney," Daniel said. "We don't want that to happen. We want to go up there and compete, play in and play out."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)