As Gary Pinkel and his players met with the media on Monday, the buzz around the Tom Taylor Building wasn’t about the opening of the 2005 season against Arkansas St. on Saturday. Many of the questions directed at the players and at Pinkel had to do with a quarterback. And no, not Brad Smith.

“I’ve never seen a freshman like this,” Pinkel said in reference to Chase Daniel, who has moved up to second-string quarterback. “No question about it.”

The true freshman from Texas has passed junior Brandon Coleman and redshirt freshman Chase Patton on the depth chart.

Pinkel made it clear that Daniel is even further along than Smith was in his first year in Columbia. He also said that this isn’t an experiment. In Pinkel’s mind Daniel is best equipped to step in if there should Brad Smith suffer an injury.

“We had to answer this question,” Pinkel said, “‘If something happened to Brad (Smith), who do we think can best run this offense?’”

The new, spread offense the Tigers will be running this year is similar to the offense that Daniel ran at Southlake Carroll High School last year.

“He’s a pretty smart kid, so just kind of that experience has helped him out a lot,” said Brad Smith.

The numbers he put up in two years as a starter are staggering. He passed for 8,298 yards and 91 TDs and rushed for 2,954 rushing yards and 39 TDs as a junior and senior. His teams went 32-1 and won the Class 5A Texas state title in 2004. One publication listed him as the highest ranked high school quarterback in the nation last year.

Don’t expect Pinkel to just ease Daniel in midway through the season. If the lead—or deficit—is big enough, he’ll play.

“You’ve got to get him experience. You’re not going to wait seven games down the road or eight games down the road and say all of a sudden, ‘OK, let’s throw him out there.’”

And Daniel can’t wait until his number gets called, no matter what the game situation may be. “I’m going to take that game experience as much as I can and just run with it,” Daniel said.

Normally during the first game-week press conference many of the quarterback-related questions are about Smith. Does the starter have any problem with spotlight being shifted to his freshman back-up?

“I don’t mind at all,” Smith laughed.

TEAM PLANS SEVERAL TRIBUTES TO O’NEAL—There will be moments of silence at the season opener on Saturday and the home opener against Arkansas St. at ASU’s request. There will also be a moment of silence before the home opener against New Mexico on September 10.

O’Neal’s number, 25, will also be very prominent. The team will also line up at the 25-yard line before the home opener, they will wear 25 on the back of their helmets and “A.O. 25” insignia will be added in the grass between the stadium and seats on the east and west sides of the stadium.

There will also be page in the football media guide dedicated to O’Neal for the next four years. A room will be named after O’Neal in the new academic and athletic enhancement facility, which will break ground in October. O’Neal’s locker will be preserved for the next four years.

The seniors decided to allow players in O’Neal’s class to approve the tributes.