COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Last year, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Heading into the Big 12 championship game this weekend, his senior season hasn't been quite so special.
At least not yet.
The 19th-ranked Tigers have the fourth-best scoring offense (45 points per game) and passing attack (344 yards per game) in the nation heading into Saturday's game against No. 4 Oklahoma. Daniel is still playing pitch-and-catch with his receivers, evidenced by a 75 percent completion rate.
But he's thrown two more interceptions this season (13) than last year, with three of them coming in a midseason loss to Oklahoma State that knocked Missouri out of the national limelight. He struggled early in a blowout loss to Texas the following week, getting it going after the Longhorns went ahead 35-0.
Last week, Daniel was 0-for-6 with an interception and a lost fumble in the first quarter against Kansas. The Tigers were forced to play catch-up after falling behind 19-10 at halftime in a 40-37 loss.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel pointed out that Daniel did enough in the second half that Missouri could easily be riding a four-game winning streak. The Tigers led Kansas with 1:50 to go before allowing the go-ahead score, and with time running out Daniel got them back in position for a long field-goal attempt that could have forced overtime.
"The No. 1 thing with any quarterback is, don't beat your team," Pinkel said. "He made some mistakes, but he also put us in position at the end.
"It's that fine line between having that super, super year, and having just a great, great year. How we finish will ultimately tell the whole story anyway."
Daniel was a little testy this week while trying to explain why the Tigers, a 17-point underdog against Oklahoma on Saturday night in Kansas City, had a shot in the big game. Oklahoma no doubt brings up bitter memories for Daniel, ineffective in a pair of losses to the Sooners last year, including a 38-17 setback in the title game that dropped Missouri out of the BCS picture.
Asked to describe the challenge of facing Oklahoma's defense, Daniel was eager to turn the tables and talk about the strengths of Missouri's offense. Chase Coffman's NCAA career receptions record by a tight end, Jeremy Maclin's nation-leading all-purpose yards average, running back Derrick Washington's nose for the end zone -- well, what about that?
"They're a great defensive team, but you want to talk about their guys, how about our guys?" Daniel said. "You want to talk about their guys. I want to look at ours and what we bring to the table."
Part of it is smelling the roses. Daniel was buoyed by an hour-long telephone conversation he had with distraught Texas quarterback Colt McCoy after the Longhorns got jilted in the BCS standings. They'll be watching on Saturday along with the rest of the Big 12.
"That's what hit me really hard about the 10 other teams," Daniel said. "He was crushed; he wanted to be there. He's pulling for us, and so are we."
Though his Heisman chances for this year faded a long time ago, Daniel said there's nothing to be disappointed about. Underdog or not, Missouri is again in position to win the conference.
"Our goal was to win the Big 12 North and play for the Big 12 championship, and that's exactly what we're doing," he said. "It doesn't matter our record, it doesn't matter what happened in the past.
"All that matters is from here on out."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)