- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Each player is a record-setting passer at his school and has his team in position to challenge for a Big 12 conference title -- and perhaps even a BCS national championship.
But what if Daniel and McCoy had been teammates instead of friendly rivals?
As Daniel prepares to lead the No. 11 Tigers against the No. 1 Longhorns on Saturday night at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), he can't help but think about what might have been.
"I don't think you really look back," Daniel told reporters in Columbia, Mo., earlier this week. "I just think I've had the greatest experience of my life so far here at Missouri and wouldn't change it for the world. Everything worked out perfectly."
But as a senior at Southlake Carroll High School near Dallas in 2004, Daniel, like many high school players in the Lone Star State, believed Texas was the perfect place for him.
Before leading Southlake Carroll to a Class 5A state championship as a senior, Daniel was recruited by the Longhorns and several other schools. But Daniel chose Missouri, an up-and-coming program at the time, after McCoy and highly regarded quarterback Ryan Perrilloux committed to play at Texas.
"Up until that point, it had always been about Texas," Daniel said. "That's the school I wanted to go to. I think everyone growing up in the state of Texas wants to go to Texas. So throughout the whole process, of course, that was it."
With McCoy and Perrilloux already on board with the Longhorns, however, Daniel believed there wasn't room for him at Texas.
"I knew that they were going in a different direction, which is fine. I completely understand," Daniel said. "It's a business, and they have to go for the best players that they think they can go for. I went my way, and they went their [way]."
But then Perrilloux reneged on his commitment to Texas and chose LSU shortly before national signing day in February 2005. Longhorns coach Mack Brown called Daniel's high school coach to inquire whether the quarterback was still interested in playing for UT. Daniel's coach, Todd Dodge -- a former Longhorns quarterback who is now head coach at North Texas -- told Brown that his player was sticking with Missouri.
Daniel said earlier this week that Dodge didn't tell him about Brown's inquiry until a couple of weeks after he had signed with the Tigers.
"I didn't know about it for another week or two," Daniel said. "I didn't know about it until Coach Dodge told me about it. There was no way I was going to switch. I had already helped recruit guys that were coming here. What am I going to say to those guys? 'Oh, Texas came back on me late.' When I committed to Missouri was when I truly believed this was the place where I was going to go. I cut off all ties and didn't make another visit."
Brown, who didn't sign another quarterback with McCoy after Perrilloux defected, said he appreciated Daniel's loyalty to Missouri.
"Good for him," Brown said earlier this week. "Great job that he stayed committed to his school, and what a great career he's had. I don't think you could have a better career than Chase has had at Missouri. You want all the kids to go where they want to, but more importantly, you want them to go where it works. And it's worked for Chase at Missouri."
And it's worked well for all parties involved.
McCoy, who played at Jim Ned High School in tiny Tuscola, Texas (population 714), was redshirted at Texas during the 2005 season -- when Vince Young led the Longhorns to their first national championship since 1970.
The following spring, McCoy beat out freshman Jevan Snead for the starting job. In McCoy's first season as a starter in 2006, he threw for 2,570 yards and set a Texas single-season record with 29 touchdown passes. Last season, he threw for 3,303 yards and 22 touchdowns, but also threw 18 interceptions. The Longhorns went 10-3 in each of his first two seasons as the starter.
McCoy has become a Colt hero at Texas in his third season. Through six games, he has already thrown for 1,557 yards and 17 touchdowns. More importantly, McCoy is completing a whopping 79.4 percent of his passes with only three interceptions in 165 attempts. He also leads the Longhorns in rushing with 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Last week, McCoy completed 28 of 35 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown in a 45-35 upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game in Dallas.
"The biggest thing for Colt is that he probably had the best experience," Brown said. "He had a magical season the first year and some difficult times the second year. He had the pinched nerve at the end of the first year. What he's done is gone to work and dedicated himself so much to get bigger and stronger. He's worked on the weights and just changed his body. He has much more confidence now and is a better team leader."
Daniel's rise at Missouri was just as meteoric. He played sparingly as a freshman behind starter Brad Smith in 2005, and then replaced the record-setting quarterback the next season. As a sophomore, Daniel broke Missouri single-season records for passing yards (3,527) and touchdown passes (28).
He shattered both records again last season, throwing for 4,306 yards with 33 touchdowns. Daniel led the Tigers to a 12-2 record and the Big 12 North title in 2007. Missouri was ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, its highest finish in school history.
The Tigers were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country this season, before losing at home last week to then-No. 17 Oklahoma State 28-23. Daniel is again on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
It's hard for him to believe that playing at Texas would have been much better.
"It happened so long ago," Daniel said. "It happened four or five years ago, and I've had such great experiences here and have such great experiences left here. We still have hopefully eight or 10 games left to play [this season]. I'm excited about it, and I really don't think about it too much anymore."
Neither does McCoy, who has his sights set on leading the Longhorns to their second national championship in four years. Texas can move a step closer to accomplishing that by beating Missouri.
McCoy and Daniel, who became friends at the Elite 11 quarterback camp during high school, still send each other text messages throughout the season.
"Chase has done great at Missouri," McCoy said. "I think he fits into their offense perfect, and he's the perfect guy for Missouri. I feel like I'm the same way here at Texas. I think it worked out for us both, and our relationship is great."
Brown isn't sure that friendship would have lasted if both quarterbacks had gone to Texas.
"Very honestly, if Chase and Colt had been here together, one of them probably would have left," Brown said. "They're both deserving to be starters, they're both up for the Heisman, and they're both two of the best quarterbacks in the country. It worked better that they weren't here together."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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