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DaKCMan AP
11-20-2007, 10:37 AM
Smallish Texas-bred Tiger fires Missouri to big year
By Steve Wieberg, USA TODAY

COLUMBIA, Mo. Let's review, at the start, why Chase Danielshouldn't be clearing his schedule for the second weekend in December, why it makes little historical sense for Missouri's junior quarterback to be among the handful of elite players called to New York City for the presentation of college football's Heisman Trophy.

He doesn't wear a Trojan on his helmet. Or buckeye leaf stickers. Or a longhorn or an interlocked "OU." All but one of the past dozen Heisman winners have played for the sport's biggest-name, brightest-lights programs, and Missouri well, the Tigers haven't won so much as a conference championship in 37 years.

And just look at the guy.

Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer and Chris Weinke stood 6-5, cast in the mold of big-time, Heisman-ready quarterbacks. Even Jason White and Danny Wuerffel were 6-2. Daniel stepped against a wall in Missouri's weight room earlier this year and was delighted to find he'd finally hit 6 feet. Adonis, he's not.

He needn't be.

"There are a lot of guys who can throw the football from here across the road over there. There are a lot of guys who can run fast," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says. "But if you don't have it, you don't have a chance."

With one game left in the Tigers' regular season their showdown with Kansas in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday Daniel has passed for more than 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just once every 50 attempts.

He's the cornerstone of the first Missouri team to win 10 regular-season games without an asterisk and the first to rise as high as the Tigers' current No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. A Big 12 championship is within two weeks' reach. With that would come a shot at a national title that wasn't merely improbable when the season started but unthinkable.

Whatever Pinkel's it is, Daniel clearly has it.

"I've always felt that football is the greatest team sport there ever was except for one position. Quarterback," Pinkel says. "If that guy doesn't play at a high level, especially now with the way offenses are, it's going to limit you. If he plays at a very high level, then who knows how far you can go.

"I'm not saying he's the best quarterback in the country," he says of Daniel, "but you've got to show me one that's better."

Past tendencies aside, the Heisman machine is buying in.

Finalist for Davey O'Brien Award

Missouri counts just a couple of top 10 vote-getters for the award in its history. Quarterback "Pitchin" Paul Christman finished third in 1939 and fifth a season later, and two-way end Danny LaRose who came out of Crystal City, Mo., just a few years before basketball great Bill Bradley was eighth in the balloting in 1960.

Daniel was among some 20 current players who received a letter from the Heisman Trophy Trust two weeks ago, congratulating him on his season and providing what Heisman coordinator Tim Henning describes as "a heads up as to what lies ahead" should Daniel become one of the three to six players chosen to attend the Dec. 8 awards ceremony.

He's no stranger to honors and recognition. Daniel quarterbacked one of the nation's elite high school programs at Southlake (Texas) Carroll, and was a national player of the year. He was a second-team all-Big 12 Conference pick after stepping into Missouri's lineup and setting records for passing yardage and TDs as a sophomore last season.

But he his eyes widened when quarterbacks coach David Yost handed him the envelope. "I saw what was on the outside," he says. "You see 'Heisman' on it, and you see your name on it it's something special."

Daniel was named Monday as one of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the nation's top quarterback. Selected with him were Florida's Tim Tebow and Oregon's injury-sidelined Dennis Dixon. Missouri officials, meanwhile, have launched a low-key Heisman campaign, booting up a website (www.chasetheheisman.com) over the weekend.

Actually, it was set up earlier but not publicized until Daniel had walked off the field at Kansas State with four more TD passes and a 49-32 victory Saturday afternoon. The school has learned caution.

It similarly built a website for dual-threat quarterback Brad Smith three years earlier, planning an unveiling after the season's second game. But with a stunning loss at Troy, it quietly pulled the plug.

Daniel's candidacy, says Missouri's assistant athletics director for media relations, Chad Moller, "is uncharted water for us at this point in the year."

Highest of heights

Most everything about this remarkable 10-1 season is.

The only other time Missouri won as many regular-season games, in 1960, it needed a forfeit by Kansas (for using an ineligible player). The Tigers are No. 4 in this week's USA TODAY coaches' poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press media rankings, the highest they've climbed since entering the '60 Border War with KU at No. 1.

This Missouri team features a no-huddle, no-holds-barred spread offense that's piling up more than 506 yards a game and is yet to be held to fewer than 31 points. Granted, Daniel is surrounded by weapons. The 6-6 tight end tandem of Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman has combined for 119 catches and 14 touchdowns. Wideout Jeremy Maclin, with 209.9 all-purpose yards per game, is on pace to break Marshall Faulk's freshman record of 184.8 in 1991.

But make no mistake about the headliner.

Only two other quarterbacks, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Tulsa's Paul Smith, have thrown for more touchdowns than Daniel this season. Only four have accumulated more yardage.

He has been especially sharp in November, when Mizzou teams of the recent past have tended to stumble. Daniel threw for five touchdowns at Colorado, three at home against Texas A&M, two in the first half and two in the second at Kansas State games the Tigers won by 45, 14 and 17 points to set up Saturday's meeting with unbeaten, No. 2-ranked Kansas for the Big 12's North Division title.

He was intercepted just once in those three games.

"I've been around some good quarterbacks," says Pinkel, who worked with the likes of Chris Chandler and Mark Brunell while an assistant at Washington, "and he's the best I've ever been around."

He could have been one of the best Texas' Mack Brown has been around.

Too small for Texas

When he got his driver's license and a Ford pickup at age 16, Daniel immediately decorated the back window with a Longhorns sticker. Like most football-playing kids in the state, he'd grown up wanting to play for its signature program.

He was rated by rivals.com as the top quarterback and 49th-best prospect overall in Texas after throwing for 8,298 yards and accounting for 130 touchdowns passing and running as a junior and senior at Southlake Carroll. His teams went 47-1. But there was the matter of size. Brown and Texas were more interested in Ryan Perrilloux and Colt McCoy, both 6-3.

Missouri wanted him from the time Southlake Carroll coach Todd Dodge ran into Pinkel and handed him a videotape. Daniel verbally committed to the Tigers in July before his senior high school season, then stayed committed when Perrilloux now the backup at LSU backed away from Texas shortly before signing day and the Longhorns put in an exploratory call to Carroll coach Todd Dodge.

Was Daniel locked up?

"Chase is very much about relationships and Missouri was the first one to jump out and really show a very, very sincere faith in what people would call an undersized quarterback," says Dodge, now the coach at North Texas.

Daniel concedes it was a decision many Texas guys might not make.

"It's a day and age when an oral commitment doesn't mean very much at all. You can commit anywhere and commit somewhere else another day," he says. "But I was brought up the right way. I've been a Tiger since before my senior season (of high school).

I'm at the right place at the right time with everyone around me."

The spread offense he's running at Mizzou is virtually the same as one he ran at Southlake Carroll. Ditto its effectiveness.

And now, ditto its impact on the win-loss record.

Daniel fashions himself a slightly scaled-down version of Brett Favre. He loves Favre's arm. As much as that, he says, he loves his moxie. But it's the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees another Texas kid, deemed too small by the state schools, who found college happiness and success in the Midwest at Purdue to whom he most often is compared.

"He is very, very much like Drew Brees, except that Brees was a little slimmer than this kid is (at 225 pounds)," says former Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brant. "He's got arm strength. He can read the field. He's got a way about him, something that makes him good. I'm not sure what it is."

Brandt offers a prediction: Daniel is good enough to be taken in the NFL's 2009 draft, and he'll stick in the league.

"Because he's right at 6-foot tall, people will say, 'I'm not going to take a guy like that. I'm going to take a big guy,' " says Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.com. "We all love size. We all love speed. We forget production.

"This guy will come in and be a guy, in all probability, who'll be pretty darned good. Because he's just good at what he does."

***

Comparing Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, who meet Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., for a spot in the Big 12 title game:

Chase Daniel, junior

Height: 6-0

Weight: 225

Hometown: Southlake, Texas

Todd Reesing, sophomore

Height: 5-10

Weight: 200

Hometown: Austin, Texas

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