Daniel unanimous pick as AP Big 12 Offensive Player of Year

Updated: November 28, 2007, 5:52 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Chase Daniel, who elbowed his way into the Heisman Trophy forefront while leading Missouri to its first No. 1 ranking since 1960, was a unanimous pick on Wednesday as the AP Big 12 offensive player of the year.

Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton, the top playmaker on a defense that will try to slow down the Tigers in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday night, is the defensive player of the year.

Prolific Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a freshman who leads the nation in receptions, is the offensive newcomer of the year. The defensive newcomer of the year is Kansas freshman defensive back Chris Harris, who helped the Jayhawks win their first 11 games and rise to No. 2.

Missouri is the only school in the country to score 30 points in every game and everything revolves around the unflappable Daniel. He's among the top five in the nation in touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (70.5), total offense (351) and passing yards (3,951), with a knack for coming up with big plays.

The latest example came in the Big 12 North title game on Saturday, when Daniel was 40-for-49 for 361 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-28 victory that also spoiled Kansas' unbeaten season.

"You saw it, America saw it," coach Gary Pinkel said. "This guy is special, and America got to see how special he is."

The 6-foot Daniel grew accustomed to big-game pressure at South Lake Carroll High School, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, where he won a state championship, was the two-time Class 5A player of the year and recalled a crowd of 45,000 showing up for one playoff game. It was not a difficult transition to Missouri, forever an also-ran in the Big 12 and Big Eight, where his only frame of reference before committing to Pinkel's struggling program was record-setting quarterback Brad Smith.

Wrapping up a brilliant junior year, Daniel is working on wiping out many of Smith's marks while bringing the Tigers only one win shy of their first conference championship since 1969 and a shot at a first national championship.

The last unanimous choice as conference offensive player of the year, Texas quarterback Vince Young in 2005, led the Longhorns to a national title that year.

Pinkel knew the quarterback job would be in good hands for years to come in 2005 when Daniel, as a freshman, stepped in after Smith sustained a concussion and led Missouri to a comeback victory over Iowa State.

"He's a winner, we knew that coming out of high school," Pinkel said. "You don't just do what he did accidentally.

"I think his background was certainly helpful. I think that all makes up what he is."

In the fourth quarter this season, Daniel is 46-for-55 for 508 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. His play rescued Missouri from a handful of tight situations in conference play.

Lofton, a junior, played a pivotal role in Missouri's lone loss when he returned a botched handoff from Daniel to Jeremy Maclin for a touchdown that helped Oklahoma pull away for a 41-31 victory in mid-October. He also had 18 tackles in the game.

Other highlights: he forced a fumble as Texas' Jamaal Charles was inside the 5 and headed for a go-ahead touchdown, tipped a late pass for an interception to seal a victory at Iowa State and caused a fumble to finish off a goal-line stand against Oklahoma State.

"He's a great linebacker," Missouri tight end Martin Rucker said. "He's a big guy in the middle of the field, roaming all over the place, and he's really good against the run."

Coach Bob Stoops called Lofton, by far the Sooners' leading tackler with 132 stops, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, the most productive linebacker in school history.

"The guy has just been amazing at causing turnovers and making plays. He's been the most productive linebacker we've ever had," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.

Crabtree is the top target in Texas Tech's high-scoring offense with 125 receptions, a 14.9-yard average and 21 touchdowns. Harris started nine games for Kansas, stepping after an injury to returning starter Kendrick Harper, totaling 61 tackles and an interception.

In the last two games, Harris had an interception and broke up four passes.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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