By DOUG TUCKER
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - As the big crowd filed happily out of Memorial Stadium Saturday night, a young woman with an excited smile and a ``Go Jayhawks'' sweater had a question.
``Now, does this mean,'' she asked her companion, ``that we're in the Final Four of football?''
OK, so not everybody at Kansas quite gets this football thing. But cut 'em a little slack.
One way to find the stadium on this picturesque campus is by taking a street that's named in honor of the inventor of basketball. This is a school that has won or shared five of the last six Big 12 basketball titles but hasn't owned even a piece of a football championship in 39 years.
Never even in their wildest dreams have the Jayhawks won a national football championship. Neither has archrival Missouri. The Tigers' last share of a conference crown was 38 years ago.
But all those decades of gridiron futility could soon come to a historic, unfathomable end, depending on what unfolds Saturday night in a raucous and sold-out Arrowhead Stadium.
No. 2 Kansas (11-0, 7-0 Big 12) will meet No. 3 Missouri for the 116th and most important time in a fierce rivalry that began in 1891 and traces its emotional roots all the way back to the pre-Civil War days of the lawless Western frontier.
Excitement for this game has been building for more than a month. Fans on both sides of a state line that meanders through the middle of the Kansas City metropolitan area could see it coming. Then on Saturday the final pieces fell together when Missouri whipped Kansas State 49-32 and Kansas went to 11-0 for the first time in its checkered football history by routing Iowa State 45-7.
Now Kansas is ranked higher than it has ever been and Missouri is at its highest since the Tigers were No. 1 on Nov. 14, 1960, the last season they had 10 victories.
The winner Saturday night is the Big 12 North champion and goes to the conference championship game in San Antonio in Dec. 1. If Missouri or Kansas wins the Big 12 title game, they could very well be headed to the national championship game in New Orleans.
``This is fun,'' said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. ``Are you kidding me? It doesn't get any better than this.''
Even after clearing the final hurdle before the most-anticipated game these two old rivals have played, the Jayhawks were slow coming out of the one-at-a-time mind-set coach Mark Mangino has so tightly programmed into their heads.
``We're 11-0. I feel great. It's awesome,'' said Todd Reesing, the sophomore quarterback who is on the verge of smashing his school's career passing record in his first full season as a starter.
``At this point, we're going out there every week trying to take care of business. We've handled ourselves week in and week out, prepared real hard, practiced real hard. For us, we're taking it one step at a time and trying to get a win every week. This is what we've worked all year to try to do.''
A possible ticket to the national championship game won't be all that's on the line. Both Reesing and his Missouri counterpart, Chase Daniel, are gaining more and more mention in the Heisman Trophy race.
``I'm really just speechless when someone mentions that,'' said Reesing, who threw four touchdown passes against Iowa State and hasn't been intercepted in a school-record 205 straight throws.
Daniel was more eager than Reesing to look ahead.
``Chase Daniel came up to me and gave me a hug and said, `Coach, believe it or not, now we are allowed to start talking about Kansas,''' Pinkel said.
In the meantime, some of the nation's most sophisticated basketball fans are boning up on the finer points of football.
``I'm just like all those Jayhawk fans out there,'' Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway said. ``I'm excited and pleased and not quite sure how I'm supposed to act.''
Source: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: Mizzou Athletics