MANHATTAN, Kan. — It's Missouri week, baby.

How long has it been since Husker fans got juiced about that?

In the wild and wacky world of Big Red football, that's where things stand. This one's for all the marbles, or at least supremacy in the Big 12 North. The Huskers and the Tigers are tied at the top with 2-2 records.

Next week's homecoming contest is the fork-in-the-road game of the year. With a win, the Huskers will have a shot at making it a decent season and locking up their 36th straight bowl appearance.

With a loss, it could be tailspin city. That fork in the road will become a fork in the behind, and the only bowling will be one of those team-building trips to Sun Valley Lanes. NU would be 4-4 with road games against Oklahoma and Iowa State and a home game against Colorado. A 5-6 finish would not be out of the question.

"Every game is important right now," said NU I-back Cory Ross. "The Big 12 North is still up there. Missouri has to come to our house and play us. We've got to be able to bounce back."

The Tigers will be trying to do some bouncing back of their own. Missouri lost a 20-17 home heartbreaker to Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Nebraska's loss was not quite as dramatic. Coach Bill Callahan said all week he had been watching the NU-KSU rivalry from afar over the years. Now that he's watched it up close, he knows it's not much of a rivalry these days.

The biggest problem facing Nebraska next week is Tiger quarterback Brad Smith. If you can't stop Allen Webb, how are you going to stop Smith, the player who tore up the Blackshirts in a Missouri win last season?

At least this week the Huskers know how dangerous the opposing quarterback can be. Webb was something of a mystery man, and the Huskers didn't solve him. I hope the NU trainers stocked up on Ricola, because there were a lot of coaches getting hoarse from dressing down players Saturday.

There were a few moments when the "Q" word entered my head, like when several Huskers attempted to wrap up Webb in futile fashion on his 9-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

But defensive tackle Titus Adams said Callahan never came close to suggesting there were any quitters in the Husker locker room.

"He didn't say anything about guys quitting. He was just real quiet," Adams said. "There's no quit in this team."

Time to find out. The Huskers did little Saturday to convince me they are able to win against a solid opponent. But Missouri will be playing in Lincoln, and that should be worth a touchdown. The rest is up to Callahan and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and a football team that is oh so close to a date with the drain.

K-State head coach Bill Snyder said it best — or worst, I'm not sure — when he was asked if the Wildcats had turned a corner with Saturday's victory.

"Well, there's always a corner," he said. "I have never seen a building that didn't have a corner, every time you turned."

I was not aware of Snyder's architectural expertise, but he does know how to build a football program.

The Huskers play Missouri on Saturday at 11 a.m., and I think they have a corner they need to turn. This one is a biggie. It's even on TV. Can you believe it?

"We were looking at this (Kansas State) game like that, but it's tough," said NU receiver Ross Pilkington. "We're going to have to bounce back strong next week. It's the biggest game of the season.

"It's all led up to this week. It's a must win."

Reach John Mabry at 473-7320 or jmabry@journalstar.com.