By Jim Weber
The 20-month quarterback battle between David Ash and Case McCoy is over. For now. Kind of.
On Tuesday, word leaked that Ash will be the starter for the Sept. 1 opener vs. Wyoming, setting off jubilation that the Longhorns had finally picked a starter QB. But not so fast. Earlier in the day, co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite proclaimed that both would play in the game.
Clearly, the fulltime starter has not been decided. Who knows, this whole thing could drag out the entire 2012 season if both play like they did last fall.
The Ash-McCoy quarterback battle saga has replaced Brett Favre unretirement news as the most infuriating annual summer football story. There’s a reason why head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Applewhite can’t decide on one signal-caller: Neither is capable of leading Texas back to a national title contender.
With the use of hindsight, which to be fair is always 20-20, the man under center for the Longhorns entering this fall should be the same one now guiding the Missouri Tigers in the SEC: Corinth, TX, native James Franklin.
Texas is in this predicament due to whiffing on two blue-chip quarterback prospects and its ill-fated attempt to move from the spread offense that Vince Young and Colt McCoy had run to perfection in favor of a pro-style offense after McCoy’s final season in 2009.
This was the brainchild of former offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who wanted to mold the 2010 offense to stud quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert appeared on his way to NFL greatness after winning back-to-back state titles while throwing for nearly 5,000 yards in each season and being named the 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Rivals ranked him the 18th best recruit in the nation and the second-best pro-style quarterback, behind a guy named Matt Barkley.
At the time, the switch seemed to make sense. Gilbert didn’t have the legs of McCoy to run the spread and Davis wanted Gilbert to be under less pressure to produce in his first season as a starter. But after an impressive showing in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, Gilbert ended up with almost twice as many interceptions (23) as touchdowns (13) in a Texas uniform and transferred to SMU last fall.
Then came Connor Wood, the third-best pro-style QB in the nation in 2010 and a Top 150 overall recruit. Certainly the switch to a pro-style offense couldn’t blow up in Texas’ face twice with another top talent like Wood, could it?
Wood’s time in Austin made Gilbert’s stay look like an eternity as he was reportedly plagued by inaccuracy and inconsistency in practice. Without ever taking an in-game snap for the Longhorns, Wood transferred to Colorado before his redshirt freshman season.
That left Case McCoy and David Ash, neither of whom were blue-chip recruits, to fight for the starting job during fall camp last year. Meanwhile, James Franklin got the starting nod at Missouri. Here was a four-star, dual-threat recruit from 2010 who would have been perfect for Texas’ spread offense and played his high school football just a couple hours up the road outside Dallas.
Now, I don’t know if Franklin would have landed at Texas if Texas had kept the spread offense. Brown is always unfairly criticized for overlooking former in-state QBs like Chase Daniel and Drew Brees because there’s only so many great Texas high school players he can fit on his roster.
But the difference in play from Franklin and the combination of Ash and McCoy couldn’t have been further apart last season. Franklin did his best Vince Young impression, nearly throwing for 3,000 yards and running for another 1,000 while accounting for 36 touchdowns. He enters his junior season as one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a sleeper for the Heisman Trophy.
Ash and McCoy? They combined to throw for 2,000 yards and more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (11). While Ash played well in the Holiday Bowl and apparently did enough to win the starting job in fall camp, I don’t give Texas a realistic shot at competing for a national title this year with either him or McCoy under center. That’s despite an embarrassment of riches in the backfield with star running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray and one of the best defenses in the nation.
With Franklin back there? Well, we’d be talking about how Texas would probably be ranked fourth in the nation behind only USC, LSU, and Alabama, and how Franklin was the next great Texas QB.
Without a blue-chip quarterback in this year’s class, Texas might not have another dominant quarterback again until Tyrone Swoopes arrives on campus next year. Did I mention he is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation and is often compared to Vince Young, meaning a switch back to the spread looks inevitable?
For now, whiffing on two quarterback recruits and the switch from the spread offense to a pro-style formation has led to two subpar offensive seasons and a quarterback situation in peril. Meanwhile, a native son of Texas shows Longhorns fans what could have been while starring at Missouri.
Yes, everything is bigger in Texas – even the mistakes.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.