The upstart division champion is a huge underdog against the top-ranked traditional power in the conference championship game.
So it is for Missouri, off to Atlanta to face fire-breathing Alabama for the Southeastern Conference crown.
So it was for Kansas State in 2003, in Kansas City against a powerful Oklahoma team that was being mentioned among the best of all time.
Maybe the Tigers can come up with the same magic the Wildcats did that day at Arrowhead Stadium, pulling off the 35-7 stunner.
If it happens, the process has already started. At least, that’s what happened more than a decade ago.
“We were a very confident team,” said Nick Leckey, K-State’s starting center in 2003.
That confidence had been building for weeks. The Wildcats were ranked sixth when they suffered what ranks among the most inexplicable losses of the Bill Snyder tenure, at home to Marshall. The spiral continued with losses at Texas and Oklahoma State.
Missouri, with a loss to Indiana and then to Georgia 34-0, can relate.
Like the Tigers this year, Kansas State went on a six-game winning streak to conclude the regular season, including an overwhelming triumph at Nebraska in what would be Frank Solich’s last year.
(2014 equivalent: Missouri’s big win at Florida in Will Muschamp’s last year).
When the week of the Big 12 title game arrived, K-State players and coaches met on Monday, and the excitement grew.
“We reviewed film and saw where they were susceptible up the middle,” Leckey said. “North Texas had success on them earlier in the year.”
Then there was the talk. Greatest team of all time, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, already hired as Arizona’s new head coach, said K-State wouldn’t cross the 50.
Hey, that’s what K-State said it heard.
“We came up with this great game plan, we believed in it, we were so amped up,” Leckey said.
So much so that quarterback Ell Roberson once went the wrong way during warm-ups. That’s usually the sign of a team not focused. In this case, the excitement level was running over capacity.
The Sooners scored a touchdown on their first possession, and the Wildcats went three-and-out the first three times they had the ball.
But on the first snap of the second quarter, the Sooners missed a field goal and a chance to take a two-score lead. On the next play, K-State running back Darren Sproles was hit in the backfield by Oklahoma’s Derrick Strait. Sproles bounced off the hit and went 55 yards, setting up the Wildcats’ first touchdown.
The game had swung and didn’t swing back. The Wildcats had their first conference championship since 1934.
Kansas State looks for at least a share of a Big 12 title Saturday at Baylor, and it would be the program’s second since 2003. Before Snyder won his first, his teams had lost two Big 12 title games.
Missouri, which has lost three conference championship games under Gary Pinkel, seeks its first league title since 1969 and first outright championship since 1960. With a game plan and confidence, an upset can happen. It did in Kansas City.
Saturday’s SEC title game
▪ Missouri vs. Alabama at Atlanta, 3 p.m., on CBS (Ch. 5): It’s been a while since the East has won an SEC title game, 2008 to be precise. Since then, the West has won five straight, four by at least 17 points, including Auburn’s 59-42 victory over Missouri last year. The East won eight of the first 11 SEC games. The Tigers know how to win close games. The six victories by 10 points or fewer are the most by Mizzou in 124 years. The Tigers are outscoring opponents 187-112 in the second half this season.
Saturday’s Big 12 games
▪ Iowa State at TCU, 11 a.m., on ABC (Ch. 9): With a No. 3 ranking in the College Football Playoff, TCU appears to be in good shape to advance to the bracket with a victory over a Cyclones team looking for its first Big 12 victory. Although it appears Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the Heisman favorite, Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin could secure a trip to New York as a finalist. A big day would help that cause. A loss would make Iowa State the third 0-9 team in the four-year history of the league’s round robin schedule. Kansas finished winless in 2011 and 2012.
▪ Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m., on Fox Sports 1: The Sooners are ranked 18th, and this is the first Bedlam game without both teams in the polls since 2009. The Cowboys look to become bowl eligible. They’re riding an eight-season bowl streak. All eyes will be on a pair of freshmen: Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine is on his way to becoming the first freshman to lead the Big 12 in rushing. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph made his debut against Baylor two weeks ago and threw for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
▪ Kansas State at Baylor, 6:45 p.m., on ESPN: Two years ago, the Wildcats traveled to Waco with national-championship aspirations and got hammered. K-State went on to win the Big 12. Now, the Bears have national-title hopes and look to impress the College Football Playoff committee with a victory over a fellow top-10 team. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said he’ll play despite suffering concussion-like symptoms in the Bears’ 46-44 victory over Texas Tech last week.