COLUMBIA — Chase Daniel is getting closer to the Heisman Trophy.
The star quarterback posed with the 25-pound bronze statue for 15 minutes Tuesday in the lobby of the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, said Chad Moller, assistant athletic director for media relations.
It caught people’s eyes like an Olympic gold medal.
Student athletes first wandered by, but then stopped to gawk and get their picture taken with college football’s Nobel Prize, awarded to the game’s most outstanding player.
The encounter was staged by ESPN for potential publicity. The network might use the footage on its college football preview show, College GameDay, or during the Heisman Trophy presentation on Dec. 8 in New York, Moller said.
Daniel has joined the Heisman race by leading the Tigers to within one victory of the national title game. But to beat out the three other contenders, he needs to be like Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola: Follow up a masterpiece with an even better sequel.
MU waited to unveil Daniel as a Heisman candidate. After the Tigers defeated Texas A&M Nov. 10, the campaign started. Colorful fliers were printed and distributed. They resembled book jackets, featuring effusive praise from sportswriters. A Web site — ChaseTheHeisman.com — was launched, and it got 40,000 hits last week, Moller said. But most importantly, top teams started to topple, and by beating Kansas, Daniel vaulted the Tigers to their first No. 1 ranking since 1960.
“The biggest thing that can happen is to play at a high level, win and do it on a national stage,” Moller said. “Check, check and check from last Saturday.”
While the Tigers waited in the wings for weeks on Fox Sports Net, they broke out on ABC against the Jayhawks. Daniel was the star, completing 40-of-49 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. This week he is gracing the covers of Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
But Daniel is the not the only player on the cover of SI. A small cutout of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow juts out above a headline proclaiming the Gators sophomore “leads the pack” for the Heisman, a group that also includes Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, West Virginia quarterback Pat White and Daniel.
Many news organizations rank the contenders for the award. The Rocky Mountain News has the longest-running poll, which asks 10 Heisman voters for their top five picks every week. Tebow has claimed the top spot since Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, the former frontrunner, injured his knee against Arizona two weeks ago. Despite his eye-popping numbers against the Jayhawks, Daniel dropped this week from second to third because of another player’s impressive performance.
“I think that was exactly what he (Daniel) needed to elevate himself. The only drawback in my mind is that Darren McFadden was just as good that weekend,” said Tom Luicci of the Newark Star-Ledger, who votes in the Rocky Mountain News poll and has served as the State Chairman of the Heisman in New Jersey since 1985.
Propelled by McFadden’s 206 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Arkansas upset No. 1 LSU on Friday. The Razorback was a preseason Heisman favorite after finishing second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith last year.
But unlike McFadden, Daniel gets a shot to repeat his performance. , Heisman ballots asking for only the top three players aren’t due until Wednesday for the 925 voters. A total of 870 are sports journalists and 54 are former Heisman winners. Fans get to determine the recipient of the last vote by voting online. With Tebow and McFadden waiting around to learn about their bowl games, White and West Virginia will take on Pittsburgh Saturday. In the weekend’s marquee game, Daniel and the Tigers face Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference Championship. A Missouri victory would seal a berth in the national title game.
“Everybody’s going to look at him,” said Frank Bodani, a Heisman voter who covers Penn State for the York Daily Record.
Unlike past seasons when the winner was already apparent, voters are waiting this year to send in their ballots. Luicci is undecided. Tebow has the most staggering statistics as the first collegiate quarterback to score more than 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns. But that’s not enough for Luicci.
“I don’t get caught up in crazy numbers because I’ve seen too many bad Heisman winners put up crazy numbers,” said Luicci, citing 1989 winner Andre Ware, who flopped after only four years in the NFL.
Winning is Luicci’s first measure, and Tebow’s Gators have three losses. McFadden’s Razorbacks have four. Tebow’s age might also be a drawback for some Heisman voters. No freshman or sophomore has ever won the award.
But for some voters, the choice hinges on how Daniel performs Saturday against the Sooners.
“If he goes out and plays like he did last Saturday, then I don’t think there’s any way I can’t vote for him. If he struggles and they lose, then I got to look at things again,” Bodani said.