|Conference title game a trip home for Daniel, Missouri teammates|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 30 November 2007 11:33|
For Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and 17 teammates on the top-ranked team who are native Texans, Saturday's Big 12 championship game against No. 9 Oklahoma at the Alamodome will be anything but a neutral-field contest.
More like a homecoming.
``It's going to be unbelievable,'' said Daniel, whose Southlake Carroll teams compiled a 47-1 record and won two state championships at the suburban Dallas high school. ``Going back to Texas is a big deal.''
The game will be Daniel's fourth in the 65,000-seat Alamodome. As a sophomore wide receiver, his Carroll team won the 2002 state title there. A year later, Daniel suffered his only high school defeat at the Alamodome, but returned to win the first game of his senior year.
In a state where crowds of 40,000 for high school playoff games aren't uncommon, Daniel said his Texan teammates are conditioned for arguably the biggest game in school history.
``It prepared me immensely for the pressure,'' said Daniel, who also played high school games at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium and Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
The surprising Tigers (11-1), ranked No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series polls after starting the season unranked, are one win away from the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in New Orleans.
Missouri won the Big 12 North with a convincing defeat of archrival Kansas last week at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The title game against Oklahoma (10-2) is a chance for the Tigers to avenge their only loss, a 41-31 setback on Oct. 13 in Norman.
Like Missouri, Oklahoma also recruits heavily in the Lone Star State. The Sooners' 105-man roster features 46 players from Texas, more than the team's 31 home-state players.
Recruiting experts tie much of Missouri's recent success to its ability to land players from a state that, along with Florida and California, historically produces the most number of Division I prospects each year.
``Missouri's staff, like most other staffs in America, look to Texas,'' said Jake Shaw, an editor for a Dallas-based football recruiting newsletter. ``There is just an abundance of players.''
On the Tiger defense, nearly half of the 11-man starting lineup hails from Texas: ends Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis, tackle Ziggy Hood, safety Del Howard and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
On offense, receivers Danario Alexander and Jared Perry join Daniel as key contributors.
The Texas contingent on Missouri's roster is second in size only to the home state, which has produced 69 of the players on the Tigers' 120-man preseason roster.
``Missouri is our number one priority,'' Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. ``Certainly Texas is number two. ... It's been hugely important for our football program.''
Pinkel said four assistant coaches, and sometimes five, recruit in Texas.
While Oklahoma - which is appearing in the Big 12 title game for the sixth time in eight years - is sure to draw a large crowd, Missouri's strong Texas connections could help balance the Sooners' advantage in tradition and proximity.
In Amarillo, where Ziggy Hood starred at Palo Duro High, his fortunes are inextricably linked to the Tigers' success, said his father Charles, who plans to make the nine-hour drive from west Texas Saturday with a dozen friends and family.
The success of his son's team has galvanized much of the community.
``Lots of people pull for other teams here in Texas,'' Charles Hood said. ``But when Ziggy started playing for Missouri, everybody started pulling for them.''
Missouri's sudden rise will only help Pinkel and his staff further succeed in convincing Texas prep stars to eschew traditional Big 12 powers like Texas and Oklahoma and head north to Columbia, said Todd Dodge, Daniel's high school coach and the current coach at North Texas.
``They have done a great job of recruiting down here,'' he said. ``It's really been a springboard to their success.''