KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As they sat around the dinner table Thursday – bowing their heads with family members and giving thanks – you have to wonder if Chase Daniel or Todd Reesing sent a shout-out to The Mouse.
Each quarterback certainly owes the former Portland State coach a bit of gratitude. More than 30 years after its creation, Darrel "Mouse" Davis' spread offense has made Heisman candidates out of Reesing and Daniel – guys who otherwise might have never had a chance.
The 5-foot-9 Reesing has led No. 2 Kansas to an 11-0 record thanks in part to the spread attack. Third-ranked Missouri has gone 10-1 using basically the same system with Daniel, who stands a hair under six feet.
Because of their height – or lack of it – Daniel and Reesing probably would've struggled to succeed in more conventional offensive systems. But being vertically challenged doesn't really matter when you're running the spread.
"This offense," Daniel said, "is perfect for us."
And it's been perfect for the Jayhawks and Tigers, who will square off in Saturday's Kansas-Missouri Border War before a sellout crowd at Arrowhead Stadium. The winner advances to next week's Big 12 Championship game – and, perhaps, a national championship.
The spread attack featured at schools such as Kansas, Missouri, Texas Tech and Hawaii was actually developed back in the early 1970s by Davis, a high school coach in Portland.
Davis adapted the theories he read in a book written by another coach (Glenn Ellison) and then modified them into what's now known as the spread, or the "run-and-shoot." Hired at Portland State in 1975, Davis' scheme made stars out of quarterbacks such as Neil Lomax and June Jones.
Three decades later, it's doing wonders for Reesing and Daniel, each of whom got passed up by programs in their native Texas because of their lack of height.
The spread offense calls for the quarterback to line up in the shotgun and receive the snap 7-to-8 yards behind the center. That way they can see the field without having to look over a group of tall linemen.
As many as five receivers line up in the spread, and splits between each player on the line of scrimmage are noticeably wide.
"The more people you have out on pass routes, the less people there are rushing the quarterback," offensive coordinator Ed Warriner said. "You've got to be able to see over those (defenders). A smaller guy could get engulfed. We've got a lot of quick throws where Todd is getting rid of the ball before the pass rush ever has time to get there.
"I just think that a shotgun and the spread help guys that are shorter."
Reesing agrees. "You can see things better," he said. "It allows you to make reads outside and make all the throws you need to make. You've got huge splits and you're throwing through lanes. That's an advantage for any quarterback, regardless of height."
Reesing ran a similar system at Austin's Lake Travis High School with much success. Still, even after earning Texas' Class 4A Player of the Year award, Reesing received no interest from schools such as Texas or Texas A&M. In the end Kansas coach Mark Mangino had to beat out only Duke for Reesing's services.
"(Mangino) took one look at my tape and offered me the next day," Reesing said. "No one ever told me I was short. It's never been an issue. I just thought if I worked hard enough, I'd be able to do what I wanted to do."
Reesing has thrown for 2,910 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has not been picked off since Oct. 6.
"When you're that size and that good, you learned how to play a long time ago without height being an issue," Warriner said. "He learned how to find windows and how to see through defenses and anticipate things. He plays above his height."
So, too, does Daniel, who has throw for 3,590 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Daniel was the National Player of the Year coming out of Southlake Carroll High School back in 2005. But, like Reesing, schools such as the University of Texas showed no interest until it was too late.
Missouri stumbled upon Daniel when his high school coach, Todd Dodge, gave Tigers coach Gary Pinkel a tape at a coaching convention. Pinkel called with a scholarship offer a few weeks later and eventually invited Dodge to Columbia to get some pointers on coaching the spread attack.
"I think (height) is a little bit overrated," Daniel said. "If you're a great football player and if you prepare well, height shouldn't matter.
"Nowadays a 6-5 guy has to show he can't play and a 6-foot guy has to show that he can."
With Daniel running the show, Missouri has been an offensive machine whose average scoring drive lasts just over 2 minutes.
The Tigers rank fourth in the country in total offense – three spots ahead of Kansas – with 506 yards a game. Tulsa, Texas Tech and Hawaii are the top three schools in that category.
As if you couldn't have guessed, all three schools use the spread.
"It may be fun to watch," Daniel said, "but it's even more fun to play in it."