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The Tigers finished the regular season 6--5 and accepted an invitation to the Independence Bowl, where they rallied to beat South Carolina 38--31. A failure to go bowling for a second straight season might have resulted in a pink slip for Pinkel. Ergo, by saving that game against the Cyclones, Daniel saved the job of his coach.
For Pinkel and Tigers fans alike, Daniel has been the gift that keeps on giving. He is the perfect match for Mizzou's hurry-up spread. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is blown away, in particular, by the senior's savantlike ability to process vast amounts of information in those brief, chaotic seconds between the moment the ball is snapped and the time he releases it. "There's not another person in the country who can do what he's doing," Christensen says.
What Daniel is doing, in the grand scheme, is carrying a program to heights it has never before attained. He sits atop virtually every Heisman watch list. He is leading an offense that is averaging 53.4 points a game. In successive games against Southeast Missouri State and Nevada, he totaled more TD passes (seven) than incompletions (six). In 48 possessions this season, he has yet to direct a three-and-out.
If the Tigers can get past No. 17 Oklahoma State this Saturday, they will be 6--0 heading to Austin for a game against the Longhorns on Oct. 18—a game Daniel has had "circled on his calendar" for months, according to a teammate. He would very much like to give the Texas coaches yet another occasion to question their decision to pass on the pudgy kid from Southlake Carroll.
Not that the Longhorns are looking that far down the road. They've got a state fair to attend this week.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S comeback player of the year, almost halfway into the '08 season, is Colt McCoy. He has completed 103 of his 130 passes, and those 27 incompletions include six dropped balls, points out Longhorns sports information director John Bianco. McCoy's two touchdown tosses in the Longhorns' 38--14 rout of Colorado last Saturday gave him 16 on the season, against just three interceptions. Those numbers are especially welcome to Longhorns fans, considering the season from which McCoy is rebounding. As a redshirt sophomore in 2007, he threw 22 touchdown passes (down from 29 his freshman year) and 18 picks (up from seven). Deprived of his deep threat ( Limas Sweed, sidelined last October with a busted left wrist), scrambling for his life behind an injury-depleted line, he tried too hard and made bad decisions.
"This year, I'm not trying to force things," McCoy said last week. Asked for an example, he said, "Well, against Arkansas [on Sept. 27], we ran a sprint-out. They were playing Cover Two in a corner-smash look. Our route combination, against that call, wasn't very good. If it's last year, maybe I force a ball into coverage. Maybe it's incomplete, or maybe it gets tipped and intercepted. This year I'll just tuck the ball, make six or seven yards and play second-and-three as opposed to second-and-10, or as opposed to throwing a pick and forcing our defense back on the field."
Speaking of tucking the ball, with 317 yards, McCoy is also the Longhorns' leading rusher. While that speaks to the speed and strength he has gained since arriving in Austin as a 6'1", 179-pound wisp (he's now 6'3", 210), can he keep up that kind of punishing workload?
Texas coach Mack Brown can't resist comparing McCoy's rushing statistics from this season—7.0 yards per carry—to those of Vince Young through five games in 2005, when Texas won its first national title in 35 years. ( Young's per-carry average was 5.5.) The difference is that Young had Jamaal Charles, Ramonce Taylor and Selvin Young to whom he could hand the ball. So far this season the Longhorns have been unable to find a feature back capable of averaging four yards a carry. That bodes ill for McCoy's physical well-being as Texas marches into the gantlet of its next four games: Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State, followed by a visit to Lubbock, where Leach and the Red Raiders await.
LEACH WAS not exactly feeling the love upon his arrival in Norman in 1999. "A lot of people around here still thought the name of the school dictated what you had to do on offense," he recalled last week.