Texas Longhorns: David Ash

Schedule analysis: Texas

July, 2, 2014
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July is around the corner, leaving us a month away from the beginning of fall camps, and two months from the start of the season. With the 2014 season arriving in the not-too-distant future, it’s time for us to break down every Big 12 team’s complete schedule.

We continue this series on Wednesday with the Texas Longhorns:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 30: North Texas (9-4)
Sept. 6: BYU (8-5)
Sept. 13: UCLA (10-3) (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Big 12 home games

Oct. 4: Baylor
Oct. 18: Iowa State
Nov. 8: West Virginia
Nov. 27: TCU

Big 12 road games

Sept. 27: Kansas
Oct. 11: Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl in Dallas)
Oct. 25: Kansas State
Nov. 1: Texas Tech
Nov. 15: Oklahoma State

Gut-check time: The annual midseason bowl game. When Texas and Oklahoma face off on Oct. 11, you can throw out their respective season records and trajectories. They don't really matter. All that matters is Texas is in possession of The Golden Hat and the Sooners want it back. This year's Red River Showdown will likely feature a top-5 Oklahoma team with playoff aspirations and a thirst for revenge. It's absolutely gut-check time for David Ash, who has one TD and five turnovers in his two career games against OU.

Trap game: By definition, a trap game is a potential upset you don't see coming. They don't get much more "trappy" than last year's Texas-BYU game in Provo, when the Cougars put up 40 points and 550 rushing yards and the Longhorns lost the game, Ash, Daje Johnson and, a day later, their defensive coordinator. So yeah, Texas players aren't going to be sleeping on Taysom Hill and BYU this time around. This is a real trap, too, because a loss by any margin could snowball into a 2-4 start to the season.

Snoozer: In 2012, Texas had a close call at Kansas and a snoozer at home against Iowa State. Last season, it was a close call at Iowa State and a snoozer at home against Kansas. So unless West Virginia's season has completely fallen apart by the time they visit Austin in November, the safe bet here is that the Iowa State game is a win for Texas and a forgettable one. Considering it's the first post-Red River game, that's probably a good thing for the Longhorns.

Telltale stretch: Sept. 13-Oct. 11. In the span of a month, Texas will likely have three games against top-10 opponents, with two of those games coming in sold-out neutral sites with crazy atmospheres. If Texas gets past BYU and enters its UCLA-Baylor-Oklahoma stretch unscathed, it sets up a gigantic stage for new coach Charlie Strong to send a message. Winning two of three would get a lot of folks excited about the program's future. Winning all three would put Texas right in the middle of the playoff hunt. An O-fer would make a clear statement that Texas has some rebuilding to do.

Final analysis: Notice how we didn't even mention the second half of the schedule? That's because, after Oklahoma, it's all downhill (or uphill?) from there. Once Texas begins its Big 12 slate, it does not have a bye week until Nov. 22. That's eight consecutive weeks of conference games. It's going to be one long, brutal run for these Longhorns, one that will test the resolve of its players and its new coaching staff. There are no cupcakes along the way like Strong's Louisville teams faced in the Big East and American Athletic Conference. Still, these Longhorns overcame a brutal start in 2013 to win their first six Big 12 games, and this team has just as much veteran talent and leadership. How they respond to those three huge games, no matter the result, will dictate how this seemingly unfriendly schedule plays out.

Best case, worst case: Texas

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
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Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season might look like if everything falls into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario.

We continue the series today with Texas.

BEST CASE

Mack Brown’s debut season at Texas featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Ricky Williams), a 9-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Tough act to follow, but why not try?

To kick off this run, David Ash takes the boot off his left foot in early July and the word “injury” is never whispered for the rest of his career. The Longhorns don’t need much from him to beat down North Texas in the opener, not with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each rushing for 100 yards.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerDavid Ash missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion and fractured his foot in spring practice.
The team doesn't need much motivation against BYU, either. Texas exorcises last year’s demons by holding BYU to an unprecedented minus-550 rushing yards.

Even with Ash’s physical invincibility, Texas is challenged by a top-10 UCLA team. Trailing 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Charlie Strong elects to insert freshman Jerrod Heard. He goes off on the Bruins, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more to pull off the upset. Texas goes to 3-0 and No. 10 in the polls.

Strong sticks with Heard the rest of the season and he throws for 3,707 yards and 27 touchdowns, plus 1,411 rushing yards and 22 more TDs. It’s not enough to win the Heisman, but Heard does finish second and inspires a recruiting run in December and January the likes of which this state has never seen.

So Texas beats UCLA and then has a close call at Kansas – Ash’s fourth-quarter cameo saves the day – before the big home game against No. 4 Baylor. Final score: Texas 6, Baylor 3.

Next up: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Texas. Blake Bell – yes, the Sooners go back to Blake Bell – throws for 130 yards and two interceptions and Texas wins 49-17. That makes six games in a row that Gray and Brown have each gone for 100-plus.

Texas takes care of Iowa State and Kansas State, but a nail-biter in Lubbock ends in heartbreak when Davis Webb connects with Jakeem Grant for the game-winner with 1 second left, evoking comparisons to the ending in 2008. Texas is despondent, but still No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

They beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU but finish in the dreaded No. 5 spot. In an incredibly close vote, the committee’s sixth tiebreaker is Strong’s April 21 statement that Texas will not play for a national championship. Alabama secures the No. 4 spot and is one of three SEC teams in the inaugural playoff.

Texas settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl and beats LSU 33-23. Gray and Brown each finish with 1,500 rushing yards and join Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs in earning All-America honors. A record-breaking 15 Longhorns are selected in the NFL draft.

WORST CASE

Texas has no troubles against North Texas – in fact, a healthy Ash looks encouragingly good – and folks are feeling good about the beginning of the Strong era.

But then Texas loses to BYU thanks to more heroics from Taysom Hill and his knee brace-aided touchdown runs, and this reeling team isn’t ready for the big stage in Jerry World against UCLA. Brett Hundley raises his Heisman stock with a big game and the Longhorns’ inability-to-tackle woes are again a trend.

Texas coaches have two weeks to prepare Heard for the Big 12 opener against Kansas, but they stick with Ash the rest of the season and let the rookie redshirt. Ash’s final numbers are solid, all in all – he returns to putting up top-25 passing numbers in several metrics, as he did in 2012 – but by the end of the season the Longhorns have no more confidence in their quarterback situation than they did on June 25.

Texas gets to 2-2 with a win over Kansas, then gives up 45 points to Baylor in a game that gets out of hand in the second half. Art Briles wears his Big 12 title belt on the sideline the entire fourth quarter.

Despite a valiant effort in a closer-than-expected battle, Texas still comes up just short against Oklahoma and drops to 2-4.

Texas does get to six wins by beating Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but hardly anyone notices. The nation is too captivated by a playoff race that ends with Oklahoma, Baylor, Alabama and Florida State making the College Football Playoff. The Sooners win it all.

But Texas’ humiliation doesn’t end there. The AdvoCare Texas Bowl jumps at the chance to pit the 6-6 Longhorns against a 6-6 Texas A&M team in Houston. The Aggies get the last laugh on a field goal as time expires.
There can be various signs of success in the Big 12.

This fall there will be Big 12 players whose individual success could be a sign of greater things for their teams. Baylor needs someone to fill the void left by Tevin Reese, a healthy David Ash could transform Texas' season and consistent production from several players would boost their teams' chances to excel.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here's a look at one stat from a player on each Big 12 team that could be a sign of success for their teams.

[+] EnlargeCorey Coleman
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsCan Baylor wideout Corey Coleman breakout in 2014?
Baylor receiver Corey Coleman's reception per game average: The Bears’ fourth leading receiver averaged 2.7 receptions and 40.5 yards per game as a redshirt freshman. With Reese moving on to the NFL, Coleman has the chance to drastically increase his per-game averages. The Bears hope his Fiesta Bowl performance -- seven receptions for 88 yards -- are a sign of things to come. If Coleman can double his average to 5 or 6 receptions and 80-plus yards per game, it could mean the Bears offense is humming yet again.

Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage's reception percentage: The Cyclones’ top target caught 52.7 percent of the passes thrown his way. For comparison’s sake, Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett caught 71 percent of his passes. Iowa State has been preaching consistency since the end of the season and Bundrage has said catching more consistently and limiting his drops is his primary goal. If Bundrage can up that percentage to 70 or better, it would open up the offense and open up space for the Cyclones' other receivers and running backs.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart's completion percentage: Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis wouldn’t have named Cozart his starter if he wasn’t confident the sophomore could be much improved as a passer. Cozart completed just 36.5 percent of his passes during his seven games played as a freshman. If KU’s offense is going to improve under new coordinator John Reagan, Cozart needs to aim to get his completion percentage to at least 58 percent.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters' sack percentage: Waters was sacked 23 times in 13 games a season ago and was sacked on 8.1 percent of his pass attempts. Only Iowa State's Sam B. Richardson had a higher sack percentage in the conference. Waters needs to do a better job of getting rid of the football and limiting negative plays this fall, particularly with the Wildcats searching for a consistent running threat early in the season with John Hubert no longer in the backfield. The senior signal-caller should be aiming to cut his sack percentage to five percent or less. While that number doesn't fall solely on his shoulders, Waters can play a key role in lowering the overall number of sacks and sack percentage.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight's yards per attempt: Knight struggled to be a consistent passing threat as a redshirt freshman, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. Only Texas’ Case McCoy and KU’s Jake Heaps and Cozart finished with lower yards per attempt averages among Big 12 quarterbacks who started a game last fall. The league average was 7.2. Opposing defenses will likely try to force Knight to beat them with his arm this fall, so his accuracy and decision-making will rise to the forefront as he tries to lead OU to a College Football Playoff berth. If Knight’s 2014 season average is closer to the 7.9 yards per attempt he recorded in the Sugar Bowl, it will be a great sign for the Sooners.

Oklahoma State receiver Jhajuan Seales' touchdowns: The Cowboys need a breakout season from Seales, who could be the Pokes’ next star at the position. He had just three touchdown receptions as a redshirt freshman, but if he can triple that output in 2014 that would mean the Cowboys' quarterback questions have likely been answered and Seales has taken the next step toward stardom.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpCan Texas signal-caller David Ash remain healthy in 2014?
Texas quarterback David Ash's pass attempts: Considering the state of the quarterback position in Austin, Texas, it would be great for Charlie Strong if Ash’s pass attempts surpass 200 for the second time in his career. It would mean Ash remained healthy and would give Strong an experienced signal-caller who has won 15 games as a starter. Injuries resulted in Ash attempting just 87 passes in 2013 so surpassing 200 pass attempts could help Strong have a successful first season.

TCU quarterback/receiver Trevone Boykin's total receptions: Boykin finished the 2013 season with 26 receptions for 204 yards despite starting six games at quarterback. He has been running the Horned Frogs' offense from behind center during the offseason, but if he finishes with more than 26 receptions in 2014, that’s a terrific sign for TCU. First, it means a solid option has emerged at quarterback allowing Boykin to slide to receiver. Second, it shows Boykin’s late season excellence as a pass catcher in 2013 was not a fluke, potentially making the Horned Frogs’ attack more explosive than it has been during the past two seasons.

Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant's yards per play: The junior wideout averaged 11.3 yards per play from scrimmage in 2013. The Red Raiders scored at least 30 points in every game in which Grant averaged at least 11 yards per play. Grant is a dynamic playmaker whom coach Kliff Kingsbury will try to get the ball as much as possible to help lessen the impact of losing Jace Amaro and Eric Ward. If Texas Tech increases Grant's touches and he rewards the coaching staff by averaging 12 yards per play in 2014, he has the potential to change games and help the offense continue to rank among the Big 12's best.

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood's percentage of the Mountaineer’s total yardage: Smallwood accounted for 7.2 percent of WVU’s total yards from scrimmage as a freshman. Look for him to increase that percentage as a sophomore after a stellar spring. He could slide right into the versatile role manned by third-round pick Charles Sims. If the sophomore can match Sims’ 30.3 percent of WVU’s total yardage in 2013, it could be a great sign for the Mountaineers.
Texas and Oklahoma face tough road tests as we enter the final few weeks of the season.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 12.

Nov. 15

Texas at Oklahoma State
TCU at Kansas
Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Jake Trotter’s pick: Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Depending on how the Red Raiders fare in road tests at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU, this mid-November tilt could hold Big 12 title implications on either side. At the very least, it could be a huge roadblock standing in the path of Oklahoma’s Big 12 title and playoff hopes.

Traditionally, Lubbock has been a disaster zone for the Sooners, who at one point fell to Tech three straight times at Jones AT&T Stadium.

In 2005, a controversial call at the goal line lifted the Red Raiders to a game-winning touchdown. In 2007, quarterback Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter of another Oklahoma loss. And in 2009, Tech simply obliterated the Sooners, who wore Nike combat uniforms that afternoon.

Oklahoma played one of its best games of the 2012 season in a victory in Lubbock. But over the years Tech has given the Sooners as many problems as any team in the conference.

This will be a prime spot for Kliff Kingsbury to earn a program-defining conference win and a chance for me to wolf down another Blue Sky cheeseburger.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Oklahoma State

I have a feeling this will end up being a critical game for both teams.

It will be the third road game in four weeks for Texas and the lone home game for OSU during a season-ending four-game stretch, which includes trips to Baylor and Oklahoma.

The Cowboys are 3-2 against the Longhorns over the past five seasons but, surprisingly, have not beaten UT at Boone Pickens Stadium since 1997. The last time UT played in Stillwater, Okla., David Ash had the moment of his career, leading the Longhorns to a controversial late win in a game that also could be considered the best of J.W. Walsh's career. If both quarterbacks are still taking the snaps for their respective teams, odds are it’s been a pretty good season in both Stillwater and Austin, Texas.

Simply put, I want to go to this contest because games like these show us what the coaches and players in both programs are truly about. Both teams will be physically and mentally exhausted. There will be no surprises, as both teams will be well-scouted by each other, and both teams will need a win.

And I like the odds for another great game between the two teams, so I’m making a trip to BPS hoping that it won’t be as chilly as my last couple of visits against Baylor and Oklahoma last season.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU

Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State

Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia

Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma
In this week's mailbag we discuss scheduling, Charlie Strong tempering expectations and quarterbacks David Ash, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters.

Remember, to submit a mailbag entry, simply go here.

Without further ado, to the ‘bag we go:

Justin in Dallas writes: Sure, Kliff Kingsbury has gotten some studs, and West Virginia is off to a hot start, but are you really going to talk about recruiting in the Big 12 and not mention Baylor? I think the blinders might be on, and you could be forgetting where Baylor’s recruiting was just a few years ago. This class, though inherently small, could be one of the best ever in Waco.

Trotter: I have no idea what makes you feel slighted, but we’ve mentioned Baylor’s impressive recruiting haul multiple times. Think about this -- Baylor has six of the league’s 22 ESPN 300 commitments. That’s better than 27 percent. And the Bears aren’t done, either. This could wind up being a top-15 class.


Steve in Phoenix writes: Does the loss of Daniel Sams at K-State help Jake Waters’ chance of a standout season? Now, he can bomb away every game if he (or rather coach Bill Snyder) wants. I know I am reaching here but there has to be a bright side to this thing.

Trotter: Sorry, you’re reaching, Steve. Waters was going to be the unequivocal starter whether Sams had stayed or not. Waters was never going to be looking over his shoulder, especially considering Sams had changed positions during the spring. The bottom line is, the Wildcats lost a big-time playmaker, who is going to be making those plays now for McNeese State.


James in El Paso, Texas, writes: Jake, Texas' backfield is going to good again this year, and maybe even great. Do you see the Longhorns winning 10 games this year if David Ash can return as the starter, and stay healthy for the entire year?

Trotter: If Ash is healthy for the entire season, that changes Texas’ outlook substantially. The Longhorns have the most experienced offense and defense returning in the Big 12, and there’s not a weak unit on the team other than quarterback and possibly placekicker. If Ash stays healthy and finally realizes his potential, Texas could be formidable. But that’s a Texas-sized if.


J.J. in Tumalo, Ore., writes: Jake, good article on Big 12 scheduling last week. But if Baylor goes 12-0 playing three complete stiffs out of conference and Oregon goes 12-1 with an out of conference win against Michigan State, why would the committee select Baylor over the Ducks? Thanks for the great blog.

Trotter: We really don’t know yet how the committee is going to select the four playoff teams. I would think that any Power-5 team that goes undefeated would be a virtual lock. Where Baylor is going to run into trouble with its scheduling is if it goes 11-1. Nonconference scheduling is likely going to carry a lot of weight in differentiating one-loss teams for the playoff. Given its nonconference slate, that wouldn't bode well for Baylor.


Trevor Collins in Burleson, Texas, writes: Even as an avid Longhorn fan, I recognized Trevor Knight’s brilliant performance in the bowl game. But I don’t really think he’s fully proven himself for a whole season. Looking back at last season, he really didn’t play a significant role in most of the Sooners’ games, and when he did his stats weren’t that great. I just feel OU is being a little overrated right now, and I’m not just saying this because I’m a UT fan. What happens if Knight doesn’t work out?

Trotter: There’s no doubt that Knight has much to prove, considering he’s only started and finished three games so far in his career (Louisiana-Monroe, Kansas State, Alabama). But there’s also no denying the talent Knight showcased in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Don’t forget about the return of nine defensive starters, which is another big reason why the Sooners are getting so much preseason love. I agree, after the inconsistency last season, there’s still much for this team to prove. But there’s a lot to like, too, especially if Knight plays anywhere near the level he did in the Sugar Bowl.


Ben in Dallas writes: Do you think it was a smart or dumb move for Charlie Strong to temper fan expectations during his tour? On one hand fans might be happier with moderate improvement. On the other hand isn't fan enthusiasm during games a problem? Telling the Texas faithful they have a shot at the playoffs might solve that.

Trotter: I liked it. For too long Texas has been playing against expectations that didn’t really reflect where the team actually was. Mack Brown told everyone he ran into that the 2013 team was going to be the one that was going to take Texas back to the top. That looked utterly ridiculous after BYU obliterated the Longhorns in Week 2. Anyone who watched the Texas spring game knows the Longhorns are still a ways off from contending for a playoff spot. They could always surprise. But Strong tempering expectations will help alleviate the pressure that has enveloped the program.
Since last week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Texas Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpDavid Ash needs to stay healthy given the lack of experience behind him.
Most indispensable player: Quarterback David Ash

With a healthy Ash, there’s no limit to what can happen during Charlie Strong’s first season. Good and bad.

At one point, USC transfer Max Wittek joining the Longhorns was considered a given. Now, with Wittek likely headed elsewhere, the spotlight on Ash’s health turns up a notch.

Ash is the lone experienced quarterback on the roster, and he has shown the ability to win big games for the Longhorns during his three years in Austin, Texas. The junior will enter the season with a 63.2 completion percentage, 4,538 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while starting 21 of 28 career games. That level of experience is hard to duplicate.

In 2012, when Ash started 12 games, the Longhorns went 9-3 with him under center. An injury-riddled 2013 has made it easy to forget Ash’s upside, but he was coming off a strong sophomore campaign and, if he can remain healthy, he could become the key playmaker in UT’s offense.

The inexperience behind him makes Ash’s health even more important. UT has two talented options in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, but this fall isn’t the time for the Longhorns to deal with the ups and downs that come with inexperience. Swoopes remains relatively raw, and Heard could use some time to get used to the demands of college football.

Disappointment has become all too common in Austin, so Strong’s squad needs to win now. And Ash has the proven ability to help make Strong’s first season a success.

Burnt Orange Breakdown: David Ash

May, 28, 2014
May 28
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 14 David Ash
Junior quarterback

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Tim SharpThe Longhorns need QB David Ash to stay healthy in 2014.
Recruitment rewind: Ash committed to Texas at a 2010 junior day and never looked back. His other offers at the time were TCU and Houston, and Texas A&M showed interest. The four-star from Belton, Texas, was the nation’s No. 11 quarterback in his class and threw for 7,944 yards and 80 TDs (plus 22 rushing TDs), setting 13 schools records. He enrolled early in the spring of 2011.

Career so far: How can we sum this up in 100 words? Ash was thrust into the lineup as a true freshman, starting six games after Texas lost Garrett Gilbert. He beat out Case McCoy for the starting job in 2012 and threw for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs as a sophomore. Ash was poised to take on a leadership role last season, but suffered a concussion against BYU that would end up sidelining him for 10 games. He returned this spring but went down again, this time with a foot fracture. Ash has a 15-7 career record as a starter.

Best-case scenario for 2014: How’s this for an optimistic ceiling? Ash stays healthy for all 13 games and earns second-team All-Big 12 honors, leading Texas to a 9- or 10-win season and a shot at the conference title. Texas fans would take that in a heartbeat. Shawn Watson can bring out the best in him and help tailor an offense to Ash’s needs. He’s a fourth-year player who’s had a few great performances (rewatch this one, this one and/or this one if you’ve forgotten) and can silence a lot of critics this fall. The run game will provide some big help and guys rally around Ash when he gets on a good roll.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Texas fans worry Ash could be one hit away from ending his career. Obviously, that is the greatest fear. But a more realistic worst-case outcome for Ash and for Texas in 2014 would be if Ash played with frustrating inconsistency and lost his job to freshman Jerrod Heard before season’s end. If he starts slow, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about how long the leash is for Ash before Charlie Strong and the staff goes in a different direction. Texas can’t afford to get stuck in the limbo of not knowing whether to stick with Ash or move on.

Future expectations: Ash’s biggest supporters in Belton have always believed he’ll develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback, and physically all the tools are there. Assuming he will be a smarter decision-maker in his fourth year than he was as a sophomore, Ash could be poised for that big jump he should’ve made in 2013. There a bunch of variables in play here -- new head coach, third OC in three years, new scheme -- but first and foremost he has to heal up and stay on the field.
The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

We continue the series with the Texas Longhorns:

Strongest position: Running back

Not only does Texas have the best one-two punch at running back in the Big 12, the Longhorns might also have the league’s best two overall running backs.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesA healthy Johnathan Gray will make the Longhorns' backfield deep and talented.
Before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 9 at West Virginia last year, Johnathan Gray was well on his way to having an all-conference-caliber season. Despite getting limited touches at times, Gray rushed for at least 89 yards during a six-game span and was well on his way to achieving the feat again against the Mountaineers until the Achilles injury.

Malcolm Brown picked up where Gray left off and rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards in Texas’ final three games while averaging almost five yards per a carry. From the beginning of November to the bowl season, Brown was the Big 12’s leading rusher, with an average of 112 yards per game.

Soon, Brown will be getting his backfield mate back. Gray missed the spring while recuperating, but coach Charlie Strong has said he’s hopeful Gray will be cleared by mid-June.

Either player is a handful for an opposing defense. Together, when healthy, they’re a load.

Both can catch passes out of the backfield. Both can pound the ball between the tackles. Both can make opponents miss in the open field. Both have experience shouldering the rushing load.

And with veteran Joe Bergeron (assuming he rejoins the squad) and big-play threat Jalen Overstreet flanking Gray and Brown, as well, the running back position gives Strong a foundation piece on offense in his first season.

Weakest position: Quarterback

The Longhorns really only have one glaring weakness on their roster, but it’s a weakness that has plagued the program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

For the fifth straight year, quarterback once again is a position of concern for the Longhorns heading into a season.

David Ash, the only quarterback on the team with any meaningful experience, missed most of last season with lingering concussion issues, then missed most of this spring with a fractured foot.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes struggled mightily through the first half of Texas’ spring practice and doesn’t look ready to take over a Big 12 offense.

And since former USC Trojans QB Max Wittek appears unlikely to transfer to Texas now, that leaves incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as Texas’ only other quarterback option.

Ash has the ability to lead Texas into Big 12 title contention. At times in his career he’s been excellent, including in the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. But over three seasons, Ash has yet to display the week-to-week consistency needed to guide a team to a conference title. Now, who knows how the concussion issues might affect the remainder of his career?

Swoopes, in place of Ash, ended up posting a decent box score line in Texas’ spring game. But facing the Horns’ second-team defense, Swoopes’ first four drives ended with an interception, a punt, a three-and-out and a missed field goal after his first three offensive plays failed to net a single yard. Swoopes’ only first-quarter completion came on a screen pass.

There's no doubt, Swoopes has potential, with good mobility and a big arm. But he seems at least another year in the system away from realizing any of that potential.

That leaves Heard, who is the sixth-best incoming dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country. Heard is skilled and a winner, having led his high school team to a pair of state championships. But he'll also be a true freshman. And if Texas is forced to play a true freshman at quarterback, it will only further underscore its weakness at the position going into the season.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.

TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.

It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.

And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh showed comfort and patience this spring, emerging as the clear favorite to become Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
But while quarterback continues to be the Big 12’s biggest moving part, the spring brought at least some clarity to the position across the league.

After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.

Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.

And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.

Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.

And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.

Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.

To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.

Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.

Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.

But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”

Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.

But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.

“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”

Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.

"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."

Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.

Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”

With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”

The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- If not for that foot, this might not be a discussion.

We don't know when or how the injury occurred, and David Ash might not either. If it pained him greatly, he'd been hiding it well. But that injury nagged the junior enough to eventually lead to a visit to the trainers. They quickly recognized surgery would come next.

Since Ash was shut down on April 11, to recover from surgery for a Jones fracture in his left foot, the Longhorns have been living in a world of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeKyle Van Noy
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsInjuries and questionable performances have plagued David Ash's career.
Here's where things stand with the four most likely candidates to start Texas' Aug. 30 season opener against North Texas.

The incumbent: David Ash

Résumé: 28 career games, 21 starts (record: 15-7), 4,538 passing yards, 63.2 percent passer, 30 passing TDs, 18 INTs, 7.8 career YPA, 396 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs.

Pros: Ash enters his fourth year in the program with two remaining years of eligibility and was a statistically underrated performer as a full-time starter in 2012. Threw for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs with eight INTs in 12 games as a true sophomore that year. Had great road performances in 2012 wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. Brings experience, ideal size, a strong arm, mobility in the pocket, and he throws a pretty ball. Offers a sneaky rushing component with rushing TDs of 55 and 49 yards on his résumé.

Concerns: Bad luck with injuries: Broken ribs in 2012, concussions in 2013 and the foot fracture in 2014. Expected to become a leader of the team last fall before going down, and was still developing as a leader in 2012. Two bad performances against Oklahoma, several other inconsistent starts.

Questions: Can he stay healthy, or is he one hit away from being done? Charlie Strong expects to have him back by mid-July, but if the recovery time extends into August, Ash will be put in a tough spot. Can he shake off the rust again and master a new offense?

The free agent: Max Wittek

Résumé: 10 career games at USC, 2 starts (record: 0-2), 600 career passing yards, 52.6% passer, 3 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 6.3 career YPA, -46 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD.

Pros: Wittek will leave USC as a graduate transfer with two remaining years of eligibility. If he chooses Texas, he comes to Austin possessing an undeniable amount of untapped potential. Prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, with a reputation for having a rifle arm and an ability to make all the throws. Isn't afraid to attack defenses deep. Nation's No. 3 QB prospect out of high school. Great first name.

Concerns: Struggled in his only two starts with the Trojans, going a combined 28-for-60 for 293 yards, two TDs and five INTs against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Failed out beat out Cody Kessler for starting job in 2013. Did not play in nine games last season. Despite having all the tools, decision-making was considered his issue.

Questions: Wittek has yet to officially commit to Texas despite three visits to Austin this spring. Could he show up in May or June and still do enough to catch up and give Ash a real competition? Is he a real solution to Texas' quarterback problem in 2014 or is this fools' gold?

The wild card: Tyrone Swoopes

Résumé: Five career games, 0 starts, 5 for 13 passing, 26 yards, 0 passing TDs, 0 INTs, 20 rushes, 79 yards, 1 rushing TD.

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Max Olson/ESPNJerrod Heard is a true dual-threat QB and a proven winner at the high school level, but can he learn the offense over the summer and take the Texas QB job?
Pros: Swoopes demonstrated his potential to the new staff in the final week of spring practice, and Strong believed he was two close misses on touchdown throws away from having a strong day in the spring game. Same size as Wittek and a capable runner. Still learning how to use his big arm. Praised for how he's learning the offense. A different player when he's confident and comfortable. Only a true sophomore.

Concerns: He's raw. Should've redshirted in 2013 and might benefit greatly from doing so in 2014. Passing mechanics need work. Still has much to learn about throwing against college defenses. Looked nervous, erratic in extended time vs. Oregon. Could develop into the full package in time but needs lots of time and patience.

Question: Will Texas need Swoopes this fall? He'll study and prepare with every intent of playing, but again, wouldn't a redshirt be preferential? Will Swoopes be ready to go if he's called upon? How far away is he from being a starting-caliber passer?

The future: Jerrod Heard

Résumé: Won two state championships and 36 games at Denton (Texas) Guyer, with 6,524 passing yards, 4,960 rushing yards, 134 total TDs in three seasons.

Pros: The true freshman arrives in June and brings impressive talent and pedigree. A true dual-threat who's elusive and quick in the open field. Good arm, good mechanics, great in play action. A winner who received a thorough education in playing QB from coaches who've trained several BCS passers. Lots of confidence.

Concerns: Didn't enroll early and has two months to learn scheme before fall camp. Great decision-maker in high school, but this is a new level. Continues to work on his accuracy. Somewhat undersized at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.

Question: Is a redshirt the best approach here? Heard just might have enough talent to win this job at some point in the season, but would Strong and the staff prefer to give him the year off to learn?

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
7:30
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.
With spring ball done, we’ll be reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, beginning Monday with quarterbacks. Some of these outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): After lighting up Big 12 defenses last fall, Bryce Petty thinks there’s still room for improvement going into his second and final season as Baylor’s starting QB. He spent spring break with QB guru George Whitfield working on pocket presence and completing passes in the face of the blitz. Petty connected on 62 percent of his throws last season while finishing fourth nationally in passing yards. If that completion percentage goes up by even just a little bit, look out.

2. Kansas State (2): Outside Petty, Jake Waters owns the most proven track record in the league. That speaks to the inexperience of the position in the conference, but it also speaks to the way Waters closed out last season. While quarterbacking the Wildcats to wins in six of their seven final games, he actually posted a better Adjusted Total QBR than Petty during that stretch. Even with Tyler Lockett sitting out, Waters still delivered a crisp spring game performance and seems poised for a big final season in the “Little Apple.”

3. Oklahoma (3): Trevor Knight might have been underwhelming in the Sooners’ spring game. But don’t let that be a deception. After recovering from some minor early season injuries in 2013, Knight took a major step forward late in the season, capped with a spectacular MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He’ll have to stay healthy (which was a problem his first season), and he’ll have to become more consistent with his passing accuracy. But the talent and upside is there for Knight to have a monster sophomore campaign. The Sooners still need to iron out who exactly Knight’s backup will be, especially given his penchant for getting nicked up. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen failed to move the needle much in the spring. Blake Bell is at tight end. And Baker Mayfield, while terrific the entire spring after transferring in from Texas Tech, remains ineligible for 2014.

4. Texas Tech (4): While Knight had a lackluster spring game outing, Davis Webb had a spectacular one. Texas Tech’s lack of QB depth is scary (incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will be the backup by default), but there’s no getting around how impressive Webb has been dating back to Texas Tech’s dominating win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Including that game and three open scrimmages in the spring, Webb threw 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. This spring, Webb showed more zip on his passes after adding close to 20 pounds of muscle. He hopes to get even stronger this summer, and has plans to train with Whitfield in May. If Webb goes down with injury, the Red Raiders will probably be toast. But if he stays upright, Tech could emerge as a dark-horse contender for the Big 12 title.

5. Oklahoma State (5): After a series of steady performances over the spring, veteran J.W. Walsh will go into the summer as the overwhelming favorite to open as the starter against Florida State. Even though he struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013, the Oklahoma State coaching staff loves Walsh’s leadership, toughness and commitment. If Walsh can revert to completing passes at the rate he did as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago (67 percent), he could enjoy plenty of success. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys have a couple of other interesting options, who both had their moments in the spring. Walk-on Daxx Garman has the strongest arm on the roster. True freshman Mason Rudolph can make all the throws, too, though clearly still has a steep learning curve.

6. TCU (8): The Horned Frogs made the biggest jump on this list with the addition of transfer Matt Joeckel, who after backing up Johnny Manziel the past two seasons should be the odds-on favorite to take over as the starter. Coming from Texas A&M, Joeckel actually has the most experience among TCU’s other QBs operating the offense Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed during the spring. Joeckel’s arrival gives TCU the luxury to bring talented incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein along more slowly. It also allows the Horned Frogs to use Trevone Boykin the way they did last season, as a receiver and situational quarterback. With only one career start, Joeckel, of course, has much to prove. But the same goes for the majority of the league’s QBs.

7. Texas (6): The Longhorns ended spring ball with Tyrone Swoopes as their starting QB. That didn’t go well in the spring game, as Swoopes struggled mightily through most of the scrimmage. Texas could move back up the Big 12 QB rankings if USC transfer Max Wittek announces his intentions to enroll. But until he does, he can’t be counted on. Throw in David Ash’s foot injury and concussion past and true freshman Jerrod Heard’s inexperience, and Charlie Strong’s first summer in Austin figures to include plenty of QB uncertainty.

8. West Virginia (7): With Clint Trickett sitting out the spring after shoulder surgery, juco transfer Skyler Howard had ample opportunity to make a mark. Instead, the Mountaineers exited spring the way they started it -- with Trickett still atop the depth chart. A dearth of options is not coach Dana Holgorsen’s problem. Veteran Paul Millard outplayed Howard in the spring game. Logan Moore emerged after moving from receiver to QB before the spring. And four-star signee William Crest will join the fray this summer. But Holgorsen must get better QB play than he did last fall for the Mountaineers to recover from a disastrous losing season.

9. Iowa State (9): According to coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones’ QB competition will linger into mid-August. But Grant Rohach will go into the summer with the clear edge after outperforming Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game. Rohach showed promise late last season, leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, overtime victory at West Virginia in the season finale. But after furiously rotating through QBs in recent years, the Cyclones understandably want to give this derby due process to play out.

10. Kansas (10): Six of the league’s teams went into the spring with a quarterback battle. Of those, only the Jayhawks came out with an unequivocal starter. After sophomore Montell Cozart outshined Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the spring game, coach Charlie Weis wasted little time in declaring Cozart the starter. Cozart still has a long ways to go, especially with his passing. But at least Kansas now has a young dual-threat QB with upside to build around.
This week's "Take Two" topic: Who will be Texas’ starting quarterback in the Longhorns’ Aug. 30 opener against North Texas?

Take 1: Max Olson -- David Ash

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIf David Ash can stay healthy, he's Texas' best option at quarterback for 2014.
When is the last time we saw David Ash at his best?

There are two correct answers: Either the second half of the 2013 opener against New Mexico State (a team that would go 2-10), or the second half of the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl to rally past Oregon State.

Texas fans have been clinging to those fleeting flashes of brilliance for, what, eight months now? Those quarters are some of the best evidence that, when everything is clicking, Ash can operate a tempo offense with confidence and creativity.

But he has to do it for four quarters and 12 games if he wants to hold on to Texas’ starting quarterback job.

I don’t doubt that, barring another injury, Ash will be the guy behind center when the Longhorns open their season. He did enough this spring in nearly a dozen practices to show Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson he’s the right quarterback to bet on.

The foot fracture Ash is recovering from now is a poorly timed setback, no question, and it prompts skeptics to point out Ash has now dealt with three troubling injuries (broken ribs, concussions, foot fracture) in less than two years.

An Ash optimist would point out this: As a true sophomore in 2012, he was a top-25 passer by QBR and efficiency standards. And, really, it won’t be easy for another QB to surpass him. Tyrone Swoopes should redshirt. Jerrod Heard is better off doing the same. That leaves potential transfer Max Wittek, who’d face three months of catching up this summer, to learn the offense.

As long as Ash doesn’t eliminate himself from the race with another injury, you only need that process of elimination to see it’s still his job to lose.

Take 2: Jake Trotter – Max Wittek

I don’t deny Ash has talent. But after missing an entire season due to lingering concussion issues, then most of a spring with a fractured foot, I’m skeptical of Ash’s long-term health. And that’s why I’m going another direction.

Swoopes showed in the spring game that he’s not ready to be the starting quarterback at Texas, even with a decent finish after a disastrous start. Heard is loaded with potential, but he’s going to be a true freshman.

That leaves USC transfer Max Wittek, who visited the Austin campus for a third time over the weekend, suggesting a decision to ink with the Longhorns could be imminent. Wittek will graduate from USC in May and will be eligible immediately wherever he decides to go. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Wittek might not be Bobby Layne, but given Ash’s injuries, Swoopes’ lack of polish and Heard’s complete inexperience, Wittek could very well be the best option for Strong’s maiden voyage.

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