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IF PINKEL has run a more relaxed program over the past two seasons, it is also because he has a strong foundation in place. He has a keen eye for talent and is one of the best recruiters in the business. Here are a few examples.
The Franchise: A Longhorns fan growing up—his older sister Lynsey went to Texas—-Daniel wasn't heavily recruited by Mack Brown. When quarterback Ryan Perrilloux jilted the Longhorns for LSU, Texas made belated overtures to Daniel, but he stuck by his commitment. It didn't hurt that Mizzou's offense was nearly identical to the attack Daniel led at Southlake Carroll outside Dallas.
The Tandem: Tight ends Martin Rucker (47 receptions for 525 yards and three touchdowns) and Chase Coffman (37, 394, three) have NFL bloodlines. Rucker, the brother of Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker, nearly followed Mike to Nebraska but thought he'd get more touches in Missouri's spread offense. After last season Martin came close to declaring for the NFL draft but returned, believing this year's team would be something special. He felt even better about his decision when the Tigers crushed the Cornhuskers 41--6 on Oct. 6. Coffman is the son of former Green Bay Packer Paul Coffman. Chase looked long and hard at Kansas State, where his father played, but chose Missouri for "the atmosphere—and the offense they were running." The Tigers' coaches promised to find creative ways to get him the ball, and have kept their word.
The Burner: Redshirt freshman Jeremy Maclin is a multipurpose weapon and future Heisman candidate. Dude. Can. Fly. His decision to sign with Mizzou was a coup for Pinkel, who, due largely to the failures of his predecessors, has struggled to attract elite athletes from St. Louis. Maclin has overcome a rough upbringing (he was taken in by a surrogate family when his mother had trouble making ends meet) and a knee injury that cost him all of the '06 season. Looks as if he's all the way back. Going into the Tech game, Maclin ranked fourth in the nation in all-purpose yardage (209.8 yards per game), and on Saturday he scored his team-leading ninth touchdown on a 57-yard reception. Though listed as a wideout, he also returns kicks, takes direct snaps out of the shotgun and gets touches on options and reverses.
NO CONFERENCE better embodies the turmoil and upheaval of this season than the Big 12, on and off the field. There was No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday, fending off one-win Iowa State 17--7. There was Nebraska, five days after the school canned athletic director Steve Pederson, getting waxed at home by Texas A&M, whose coach, Dennis Franchione, had been charging boosters $1,200 for a now-discontinued secret newsletter. From the Cornhuskers' woes to Coach Fran's prose to Mike Gundy's "I'm a man!" meltdown at Oklahoma State, the Big 12 is college football's version of Soap Net.
Less plausible than many As the World Turns plots: the sight of Kansas, a 19--14 winner at Colorado last Saturday, running its record to a mind-boggling 7--0. At 3--0 in conference, the Jayhawks sit alone atop the Big 12 North. Close behind are the Tigers (6--1, 2--1), who face their bitter rivals on Nov. 24 in Kansas City, Mo., and have only that loss at Oklahoma—a defeat for which some Missouri fans are already plotting revenge.
In keeping with their custom the day before home games, Daniel and his parents met for lunch on Friday at Harpo's, the legendary bar and restaurant in downtown Columbia. While Chase tucked into a plate of spicy fried chicken, his father spoke for many in Tiger Nation when he broached the possibility of a Missouri-Oklahoma rematch in the Big 12 title game.
Vickie, every bit as superstitious as her son, shushed Bill. "Dad," said Chase, "I don't want to talk about it. We've got Texas Tech tomorrow."
Can you blame fans for looking down the road? Anything can happen in this season of tumult. Having bonded like never before under Pinkel, who has emerged as a kinder, gentler hard-ass, the Tigers are burning bright. They've got momentum right now, to say nothing of Big Mo.