The young gunslinger who couldn't finish the job against Baylor and SMU is now the tactical surgeon who completed five of seven passes on the final, game-winning drive at hostile Boise State. He outperformed senior Heisman candidate Kellen Moore and buried the national championship dark horse on its own blue turf.
Still, to curry favor with his coach, it apparently will take more than a 473-yard, five-touchdown passing day -- the single-best performance in Gary Patterson's 11 seasons -- in this season's signature victory. It put TCU in the driver's seat for a third consecutive Mountain West Conference title, launched it back into the national polls at No. 19, and bounced Boise from BCS contention while remarkably reinserting the Frogs into the mix.
"I'm not ready to anoint Casey Pachall," Patterson said this week, while failing to expound on what exactly he would "anoint" his Day 1 starter, as though the 6-foot-5 blue-chip recruit out of Brownwood is one sloppy play from the hot seat. "People want to know why he's played well. Well, we handled Andy Dalton the same way; we don't make him be somebody special."
Yet, Pachall -- note for the uninitiated, it's pronounced Paw-hall -- certainly would seem to be trending that way.
The sophomore who spent two seasons under Dalton -- a remarkable success story in his own right at TCU and now as the rookie starter on the 6-3 Cincinnati Bengals -- is already nipping at four single-season passing records belonging to his predecessor. Pachall's first-year passing numbers compared with Dalton's in 2007 are eye-popping -- already 2,413 yards, 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions to Dalton's 1,912 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
In fact, the numbers that Pachall -- who is three inches taller than Dalton and equipped with a stronger, fully tattooed right arm -- are tantalizingly similar to Dalton's senior-season statistics that solidified him as a second-round NFL draft pick.
Even if Patterson is not yet willing to fill Pachall's once shaggy and suddenly buzzed head with praise, a certain well-cropped redhead known these days around Cincinnati as the "Red Rifle" has taken notice.
"He's been playing really well, and you can see the trust the coaches are having in him," Dalton said this week during a brief break between practice and film study in preparation for this Sunday's divisional test against the Baltimore Ravens. "I never even came close to throwing for five touchdowns and 475 yards, or whatever he threw for. I think he's got a good chance to be very good. Doing all the right things, he has a chance to be very successful in the Big 12."
The Big 12 is TCU's next stop, an indisputable challenge for a school that hasn't played such competition on a weekly basis since the days of the old Southwest Conference. Yet with Pachall and a talented young nucleus in the fold, 2012 could shape up as the perfect time to make the transfer.
So perfect that -- and this will raise the dander in certain Big 12 precincts -- Pachall could emerge as the league's most dangerous quarterback.
This pronouncement assumes that Oklahoma junior Landry Jones, a projected top-three quarterback in April's NFL draft, and Baylor junior Robert Griffin III, who has already graduated with a degree in political science, leave for the NFL. One or both could return, which would alter the argument.
Still, consider that Oklahoma State Heisman candidate Brandon Weeden will be gone. Texas' situation remains unsettled. Texas A&M and Missouri are headed to the SEC. Texas Tech's Seth Doege started hot but has cooled. Perhaps in Morgantown, W.Va., if the Mountaineers do join the Big 12 next season, the banner will be raised for junior Geno Smith. Manhattan, Kan., will rightfully hold up Kansas State junior Collin Klein.
Maybe it's a case of too much, too soon to -- excuse the term -- anoint Pachall as the next big thing in the Big 12. Yet, as Boise's fans taunted Pachall on Saturday and he playfully gave it back to them after his successful two-point conversion run that tied the score at 28-28 late in the third quarter, the otherwise low-key quarterback has shown a knack for thriving under pressure.
Yes, his interception in the waning moments of the Baylor loss stung. And he'd like a better start against SMU. But, in both cases, Pachall's poise and performance helped guide impressive second-half comebacks that twice nearly saved a tattered defense.
"Everyone says, 'Oh well, he'll never be like Andy,'" offensive guard Kyle Dooley said. "He's probably going to be better than Andy, I feel. Casey just wants to prove everybody wrong. He's going to be a great quarterback. He already is a great quarterback."
For now, Patterson, who has run out of descriptive words for Dalton, won't let his quarterback hear anything of the kind coming from him. Tough love is not a new approach. Patterson piled on Pachall before the first day of camp, questioning his ability to lead in the way that made Dalton an all-around success.
And Patterson certainly doesn't treat Pachall like a team leader, rarely allowing him to speak to the media, such as this week and next week, when Patterson says attention should be focused on the team's true leaders, its seniors.
"The biggest thing for a young quarterback, and I didn't understand this early on, was how much time you have to put in," Dalton said. "The last couple of years that I was there, I was watching film every Monday. On our off day, I was getting there early just trying to do whatever I could to make sure that I felt prepared.
"I can see him starting to get better at that. He's got a lot of talent, and he's doing a lot of really good things."
Take offense if you must, Big 12, but potentially the most dangerous quarterback in your conference must first put the finishing touches on another TCU championship in that other league.
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.