When Reggie McNeal sees his name in print, another name often appears in the same sentence: Vince Young. One publication even called McNeal and Young quarterbacks who only come around once in a lifetime, and said the two spark Texas-size debate about who is superior.
That was written in 2001, when they were high school seniors living 120 miles apart. Four years later, 120 miles still separate them -- McNeal at Texas A&M, Young at Texas -- and the comparisons persist.
"It's cool," McNeal said.
Although he's a Heisman Trophy contender, McNeal is not the quarterback receiving the most hype in the state, much less in the Big 12. That would be Young, whose four rushing touchdowns in last season's Rose Bowl made him a trendy pick for a medley of 2005 postseason awards.
But the 6-foot-2, 209-pound McNeal, described by the Oklahoman newspaper as an "anvil with legs," has proven to be the better dual-threat quarterback, at least statistically. He was the only quarterback in the country to average more than 220 yards passing and 50 yards rushing per game last season. He also passed for a school-record 2,791 yards while throwing only four interceptions. Young, by comparison, threw 11 interceptions.
One season after being the nation's only school to play three Bowl Championship Series teams -- Utah, Oklahoma and Texas -- the Aggies face an alarming road schedule, with trips to Clemson, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. But the presence of the 21-year-old McNeal is largely why Texas A&M Coach Dennis Franchione feels the gap between the Aggies and the conference's elite, namely Texas and Oklahoma, has narrowed.
"We do" believe that, Franchione said in a telephone interview. "We don't feel like there is any doubt, understanding it's a situation where they are not going to come back to us. We have to go to them."
McNeal, when asked in a telephone interview if there is a quarterback in the country who is better, said, "That's a tough question," before pausing and adding: "There are a bunch of good quarterbacks. I'm pleased to be labeled one of the best."
He holds the Big 12 record of 213 consecutive pass attempts without an interception and, if spring practice was any indication, could be better this fall. Timed at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, McNeal was named spring camp's most improved player, an accolade based on improved leadership and maturity.
"Reggie's judgment being what it is," Franchione said, "it makes you not afraid to call anything at any point in the game or any field position, because you have such a great trust that he will not put you in a bad situation."
When the Aggies have the ball, they're often at their best when opposing defenses cover Texas A&M's passing plays well, Franchione said. In those situations, McNeal is forced to demonstrate his speed and elusiveness. On occasion, Franchione joked, McNeal overcomes his coaching.
If given the choice, McNeal said he prefers to pass rather than run because it allows him to watch teammates get involved in the offense. Nevertheless, one of McNeal's favorite players is the athletic and mobile Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick, to whom McNeal and Young were often compared in high school.
McNeal and Young almost faced off as high school seniors, but Young's Madison High lost to the team that McNeal's Lufkin High beat in the state championship. When they first met as opposing quarterbacks at the end of the 2003 college regular season, Young compared it to the matchup of two young NBA players, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
During occasional telephone conversations between the two quarterbacks, the H-word is never uttered. They don't talk Heisman. "We don't even talk about football," McNeal said.
McNeal is 0-2 against Young, but the Aggies host Texas on Nov. 25 in their final college duel (McNeal is a senior; Young redshirted his first year at Texas and is only a junior). The outcome could determine he Big 12 South crown and position in the Heisman race. But at this point, awards are immaterial to McNeal.
In fact, if given the choice between the Heisman and a BCS berth, the decision would be easy.
"BCS," McNeal said. "If you make it that far, the awards will come."