Texas Longhorns: Jerrod Heard

Best case, worst case: Texas

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
3:00
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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.
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.
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.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 1

May, 8, 2014
May 8
3:00
PM ET
The NFL draft gets underway in a matter of hours so we decided to have a little fun on the Big 12 blog today.

The premise: What could things be like if college football, and the Big 12 in particular, acquired players via a draft instead of recruiting?

Therefore, this afternoon we’ll be posting a three-round Big 12 draft. Any recruit who signed with a Big 12 school is eligible to be drafted and the draft order reflects the 2013 final standings. Jake Trotter will draft for Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Max Olson will draft for Baylor, TCU and Texas. Brandon Chatmon will draft for Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Without further ado, let’s kick the draft off with Round 1:

1. Kansas: QB Jerrod Heard
Signed with: Texas
Brandon Chatmon: The Jayhawks need a playmaker at the quarterback position, and Heard is the best quarterback who will enter the Big 12 this season, in my opinion. He’s a dual-threat quarterback and the perfect guy to rebuild the Jayhawks offense around.

2. Iowa State: S Steven Parker II
Signed with: Oklahoma
Jake Trotter: With Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield both gone off last season's team, the Cyclones need a new anchor at the back end of their defense they can rebuild around. Cornerback Nigel Tribune (who started in 2013 as a freshman) and Parker would give Iowa State one of the best young defensive back combinations in the league.

3. West Virginia: QB William Crest
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: Ironically, I think Crest is the ideal fit for West Virginia and coach Dana Holgorsen. Crest could have the highest upside of any Big 12 quarterback signee, and his athleticism could take Holgorsen’s offense to another level. Oklahoma signee Justice Hansen was strongly considered, but Crest gets the nod due to his upside.

4. TCU: ATH Davion Hall
Signed with: Baylor
Max Olson: The Horned Frogs get the second-highest rated Big 12 signee and a player who has the potential to not only contribute immediately, but he also addresses a need no matter what position he plays. At TCU, Hall would get a chance to become the playmaker the Frogs' new offense needs if Brandon Carter can't play, and he'd even be able to help a secondary missing Jason Verrett from the safety spot. Considering Gary Patterson's reputation for maximizing the potential of versatile athletes, it's a good fit.

5. Texas Tech: RB Tyreek Hill
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Trotter: With Kenny Williams now plying his craft at linebacker, the Red Raiders need help at running back. With his hands and unmatched speed, Hill would be the perfect fit in the backfield alongside DeAndre Washington. Because of his ability to slide over to the slot, Tech could line up in five wide sets, too, without having to substitute with Hill on the field. Hill would also alleviate Tech's problems returning punts, and with Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis manning kicks, the Red Raiders would be a constant threat for a big play on special teams.

6. Kansas State: RB Joe Mixon
Signed with: Oklahoma
Chatmon: The Wildcats need a running back to ensure balance in an offense that features quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. Mixon would bring balance with his running ability and versatility with his receiving skills, thus allowing him to be a three-down threat for the Wildcats offense.

7. Texas: QB Mason Rudolph
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Olson: It's tempting to go with the Longhorns' top-rated signee, DE Derick Roberson, at this spot. But with Heard already off the board, the safe move here is probably Rudolph. The 6-foot-4 pocket passer might be a really good fit for what Shawn Watson wants in his future QBs, and Rudolph did receive an offer from Louisville during his recruiting process. Charlie Strong is a defensive-minded coach, no doubt, but hard to think he'd pass up a chance to address Texas' obvious issues at quarterback with this very talented one.

8. Oklahoma State: WR K.D. Cannon
Signed with: Baylor
Trotter: Cannon doesn't fill a position of need for the Cowboys, but as the top-rated Big 12 signee of this class, he's too talented of a player to pass up. The Oklahoma State offense has a strong track of producing first-round wideouts (Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon). Cannon would have the skill set to become the next star.

9. Oklahoma: CB Nigel Bethel II
Signed with: Texas Tech
Chatmon: Speed. Speed. And more speed. Bethel would bring much-needed speed to the Sooners secondary that needs someone to fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Bethel recently won a few Florida state titles in track and would step right into the competition for playing time in the secondary.

10. Baylor: ATH Michiah Quick
Signed with: Oklahoma
Olson: Tough call with this pick. You can talk yourself into a few other touted wideouts. You can go in several different directions if you want to address needs. But we'll settle for speed and upside, two traits the Bears obviously covet. ESPN scouts loved Quick for his versatility as a WR and CB. They called him "an explosive jet of a weapon." Sounds like the kind of kid Baylor would have some fun with, right?
AUSTIN, Texas -- Our five to watch series continues this week with a closer look at a group of incoming freshmen who could be in line to help the Longhorns right away in 2014. You won't see Texas' highest-rated pledge at the top of the list, because this is not exclusively about star ratings. It's about fit and function.

1. DT Poona Ford

There's a reason why this guy was priority No. 1 for Charlie Strong and his staff on national signing day. Ford, who was once Louisville's highest-rated pledge before the coaching changes, was a must-get for Texas to fix an area that might be relatively concerning.

Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson are legit, but the depth behind them is unproven at best. Hassan Ridgeway could turn it on and be a key piece this fall, but Alex Norman and Paul Boyette Jr. have not panned out entering year three in the program, and Texas failed to sign any defensive linemen in 2013 after losing A'Shawn Robinson to Alabama late.

So yeah, Ford walks into an ideal situation in terms of opportunity. There's a lot to like about what the 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle put on his senior tape. If Ford gets the defense down and come along quickly, you're going to see him this fall.

2. OLB Edwin Freeman

The first big commitment of the Strong era, Freeman is a safety in a linebacker's body. At 6-1 and nearly 215 pounds, he's the right kind of package to play some kind of a rover role and produce in the back seven.

A product of Arlington (Texas) Bowie who chose the Horns over Texas A&M despite Mack Brown's departure, Freeman is an explosive and smart downhill tackler who seems ready-made to knock heads on special teams as a freshman and find his way onto the field in the right situations.

These hybrid tweener types such as Freeman and Naashon Hughes seem poised to find a niche in Strong's defense, at least based on how he ran things at Louisville. You want guys like Freeman in a Big 12 defense.

3. WR Armanti Foreman

The Texas City native brings speed and attitude to Texas, plus the ability to play either receiver or defensive back.

Whether it's Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard or another one of the many Texas receiver signees, it seems likely at least one of these freshmen will prove to the cream of the crop by the end of fall camp and see early playing time.

The new staff had to put in some time to convince Armanti and his brother, D'Onta Foreman, to stay on board, and they nearly took a visit to Missouri. But both are ready to show up in Austin with the hopes of playing right away, and D'Onta is the kind of weapon Texas can put in the slot and make some noise with in the future.

4. DE Derick Roberson

Why is Roberson, the Longhorns' highest-rated ESPN 300 signee, so low on this list? Only because of Texas' solid depth along the defensive line. When you have a potential All-American in Cedric Reed and two exciting third-year ends in Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett, you're in good shape.

Roberson can make that group much better if he shows up ready to play. He'll bulk up in his first year under strength coach Pat Moorer and could turn into even more of a freak by Year 2. For that reason, a redshirt wouldn't be inexcusable.

But as a speed rusher who racked up more than 20 sacks in his senior year at San Antonio Brennan, Roberson is, at the very least, a passing-down rusher who creates problems in the backfield. Don't be surprised if he finds his way onto the second unit and excels when he sees the field.

5. QB Jerrod Heard

Texas fans might not be happy about this ranking, since Heard is the next great beloved quarterback (aren't they all?). Truth is, after watching Heard become a two-time state champion at Denton Guyer, it's easy to buy in and see him as the guy of the future.

That doesn't guarantee playing time in 2014, however. He's as polished as any freshman quarterback in the country and mature beyond his years. He's got the makeup you'd ideally want if you had to throw him out on the field as a rookie. Considering Texas' instability at QB, would anyone really be that surprised if Heard is the starting quarterback by November?

How far he gets this fall depends on how prepared he is this summer and what he proves to Shawn Watson. But assuming Max Wittek does end up in Austin and David Ash recovers to 100 percent as expected, Heard seems more likely to sit than play early on. Considering the expectations he faces, that might be for the best.
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?
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.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong tried to play coy. Well, either that or he didn’t understand the question.

The question posed Tuesday was whether the first-year Texas coach can envision a quarterback joining this Longhorns program in the summer and competing for the starting job.

“I don’t know who that would be. You got somebody coming in for me?” Strong said before chuckling. “You got a secret guy coming here for me? We signed one in Jerrod [Heard]. He’s the only one.”

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITexas QB Tyrone Swoopes will now run the first-team offense and coach Charlie Strong told him "This is your team and it's up to you to go lead."
This was, of course, a veiled attempt at the question Horns fans have been chewing on for weeks and, in particular, the past five days: Is Max Wittek coming to Texas?

The Longhorns’ need for the former USC quarterback looms large now that David Ash has been lost for the spring. Right now, there’s a whole lot more interest in the three passers who won’t be playing in the Orange-White spring game this Saturday than the trio who will.

Finally recovered from the concussion-related issues that ended his 2013 season early, Ash was poised to once again take control of the Texas offense and he made a strong first impression on his new coaches.

Those efforts got put on hold when UT doctors discovered a fracture in his left foot that required surgery.

“It’s very tough because the injury for him, I don’t know how long he had it, but he said it had been bothering him,” Strong said. “He came in the other day, our trainers checked him and we were able to find out exactly what was wrong.

“You would’ve never known he had the injury with just how well he was practicing and the way he’s been carrying himself. He understands this: A team is going to come and go as its quarterback goes. He wants to be the leader.”

Strong won’t call Ash his clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, at least not publicly, and said he didn’t anticipate naming a starter this spring. That decision will come during fall camp. But Ash had learned the new scheme and terminology, and he’s led the offense before.

With Ash out, Texas is left with three passers for its Saturday scrimmage at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will run the first-team offense. Walk-on Trey Holtz and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule, who prior to this spring hadn’t played QB since 2010, will get the backup snaps.

After the news of Ash’s injury broke, Strong told Swoopes to get ready to roll. This is, for the final week of spring ball, his offense.

“I told Tyrone the key thing for you is it’s all about confidence and it’s all about you just doing everything we ask you to do and play within yourself,” Strong said. “Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this: This is your team and it’s up to you to go lead.”

In his six appearances as Texas quarterback last season, Swoopes played like a freshman. With the exception of three drives in a Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon, the dual-threat quarterback with tantalizing size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and intriguing speed wasn’t asked to do much. He was inconsistent in the mop-up minutes he did receive.

Swoopes will remain a project until he gets more comfortable throwing the ball. His legs usually did the job while he thrived in small-town Whitewright, Texas, and he still has plenty to learn about beating Big 12 defenses.

But Strong saw enough last Saturday during a spring scrimmage to be encouraged, calling his performances “outstanding.”

“I don’t know his numbers, but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs, laid it out there and it was a big throw,” Strong said. “He did a really good job and he settled in. He took it and had the confidence and just had a different air about him, and did a really good job leading the offense.”

Still, quarterback is atop the list of Strong’s biggest concerns as Texas finishes off its first round of practices. The addition of Wittek, who has taken multiple visits to Austin and is expected to decide in the near future, would alleviate some of the worry.

So would a strong summer from Heard, a two-time state champion at Denton (Texas) Guyer who arrives the first week of June. Strong said he’ll get a chance to win the job like everyone else, but first he’ll have to master his playbook.

Heard will be in the stands on Saturday afternoon, with the thousands of other Longhorns fans. They'll be watching closely for the first round of a Texas quarterback battle, but the truth is, it hasn't even begun.
David Ash's broken foot is yet another blow to the Texas quarterback and his chances of locking down the starting quarterback job in 2014.

Ash missed the majority of the 2013 with concussion-like symptoms but was looking to get off to a fresh, and healthy, start under new coach Charlie Strong. Instead, this injury puts Ash back on the sideline for the remainder of the spring.

It’s the worst-case scenario for Ash in a lot of ways, as it opens the door for other quarterbacks to put a stranglehold on the position or, at the very least, give themselves an edge in the race to start for UT this fall. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is one of three healthy quarterbacks expected to be available for the Longhorns’ spring game on April 19 and will get the chance to impress the new coaching staff while the other main competitors in the quarterback derby watch from the sidelines. Even though Ash will miss just the final week of spring football, his injury still removes competition in the final days of spring.

More competition is on the way with class of 2014 signee Jerrod Heard joining the mix in the summer and USC transfer Max Wittek possibly joining the fray if he decides to transfer to Texas.

For Texas, Ash’s injury makes the spring game a bit more difficult with just three healthy quarterbacks set to participate. But, more importantly, Ash’s injury has reaffirmed the Longhorns’ need for multiple options at the quarterback position. Ash has started 21 games during his UT career, giving him the experience edge over all of his competitors and the coaching staff a bit some peace of mind with a veteran option at the position. But he’s been unable to shake the injury bug during the past year, essentially putting all of the quarterbacks on even ground heading into the competition. This injury won’t help his case as he tries to win the job and prove himself as the best option during Strong’s initial season in Austin, Texas.

Don’t be surprised if UT’s pursuit of Wittek becomes an even higher priority, Swoopes’ development starts to accelerate and Heard’s summer is spent preparing the true freshman to play immediately.

Because if UT has learned anything from the past 12 months at the quarterback position, it's that one injury can turn Plan B into Plan A in a heartbeat.

Texas signees anxious for big move

March, 31, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas – Jerrod Heard has the date on his mind and on his calendar.

“June 3,” Heard said. “Then it’s showtime.”

The soon-to-be Texas quarterback was one of five Longhorns signees who returned to Austin to compete at the Texas Relays. It's one of his final visits before he makes the big move. It was a weekend off from a spring semester that can’t end soon enough. There are classes to complete and diplomas to collect, but the Texas campus is where they all want to be.

“It’s a teaser,” running back signee D’Onta Foreman said, “because we’re ready to graduate, ready to get up here and compete for a spot and be with our teammates and family for the next four years.”

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas signee Jerrod Heard worked out with quarterback guru George Whitfield on spring break.
It’s hard to appreciate in the heat of the annual January and February recruiting flurry, but the uncertainty of the coaching change couldn’t have been easy to navigate for Texas' commitments.

All five competing over the weekend -- Heard, Foreman, his twin brother Armanti Foreman, John Bonney and Donald Catalon -- committed to play for Mack Brown and watched that plan shatter in December. Charlie Strong rode in and inspired hope, but there was no way he could pick up all the pieces for these prospects in so little time.

Signing with Texas required patience, trust and, to some extent, a leap of faith. But they stuck with their pledges, and soon they’ll be back on the 40 Acres for good.

Heard is doing everything he can to prepare. He spent spring break in San Diego working with a handful of college quarterbacks with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield.

The Denton Guyer star is dedicated to detail, and Whitfield is a pro at pointing out the little flaws. Heard is focused on improving his accuracy in any possible way, from how he holds the ball and bends his wrist to the balance in his legs.

“I think the smaller the things you can try to perfect, the more I can use my ability as a runner and thrower,” Heard said.

From an offensive standpoint, he’s comfortable with what’s coming next for Texas. At Guyer, he operated an offense that borrowed heavily from Oklahoma State’s concepts and playbook. That will make working under offensive coordinator Joe Wickline easier, and Heard likes the guru reputation that assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson brings.

As for how Strong is changing the Horns, Heard isn’t afraid of the head coach’s emphasis on discipline.

“That’s really going to mold us together. I’m all for it and really like it,” Heard said. “I think that’s why they’re starting out with the discipline, and I think that’s really going to change the team. We’re really going to shock a lot of people this year.”

Bonney has been able to witness the effects firsthand. By attending spring practice this month, the Houston Lamar safety received a clearer understanding of what it will be like to play for the new staff. One comment certainly got Bonney’s attention in his conversations with Strong.

“He says the defense is going to win the games this year for him,” Bonney said. “... That really struck a chord with me.”

Landing Bonney was a bit of a close call for Texas after he took official visits to Baylor and Auburn. Looking back, he said those trips were motivated by uncertainty. Watching defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and secondary coach Chris Vaughn in practice answered some of his biggest questions.

“They’re really cool,” Bonney said. “Coach Vaughn is more of a talker; he likes to coach you up that way, loves giving you visual things. Coach Bedford is so smart. It feels like he knows just about everything. I’ve been in meetings and his teaching film was real cool, real cerebral. You get the best of both worlds with those two.”

Bonney knows his best shot at playing in 2014 are on special teams and in nickel packages. Catalon doesn’t expect many carries as a backup to Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, but the Houston Eisenhower back does hope to help out.

For him, sticking with Texas wasn’t a tough call. New running backs coach Tommie Robinson recruited Catalon while at USC. That familiarity made all the difference in staying put, and Strong sealed the deal.

“I like Coach Strong. He wants to win and he’s about business,” Catalon said. “The players they already have are good. It’s not like we have to rebuild. We just have to get to know the coaches.”

Armanti and D'Onta Foreman made the Texas coaches sweat in January when they nearly took a visit to Missouri, but the Texas City brothers say now they would’ve ended up in burnt orange no matter what.

They have big dreams for 2014. Armanti wants to play receiver and also line up on defense in certain packages, and he’d like a shot at returning kicks. D’Onta wants to stick at running back but is open to any position if that doesn’t work out. They want to contribute from Day 1.

They got to ponder these dreams again on Friday while playing pool in the players’ lounge at Texas’ football facility. Like the rest of the signees back in town, they took a chance on a program they’d long loved and a coach they hardly knew.

But they saw what he did at Louisville, and they know what needs to be done at Texas.

“I feel like he can come here and help us be a great team like that,” Armanti Foreman said, “and hopefully even better.”

Spring primer: Texas Longhorns

March, 13, 2014
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Texas takes the field for its first spring practice next week, and it has plenty it needs to accomplish under new head coach Charlie Strong. Here are a few of the many, many items on the Longhorns’ to-do list for spring ball:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Hate to state the obvious here, but David Ash needs to take one big step in the right direction this spring. After playing in only three games last season because of concussion issues, Ash will be cleared for full practice participation and wear a green no-contact jersey. His return to the weight room this winter was encouraging, but he has a brand-new offense to master and has a new quarterbacks coach for the third straight season. He needs to get comfortable and confident once again this spring.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown is ready to become a star on Texas' defensive line.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Watch out for defensive tackle Malcom Brown, because the junior’s next step is to be an All-Big 12 and All-America-caliber player. He was clearly Texas’ most talented defensive tackle as a true sophomore and will be a focal point of the defensive line no matter if Texas is in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. New defensive line coach Chris Rumph is ready to maximize Brown's potential.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Plenty to choose from, but cornerback Antwuan Davis stands out. Former coach Mack Brown was very tempted to throw the freshman from Bastrop, Texas, on the field in 2013 but held off. Great measurables, track speed and a fiery competitiveness make Davis a second-year guy capable of fighting his way into a role in this secondary.

Most significant position battle: We outlined that in this post, but it’s worth repeating: kicker and punter. With consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award finalist Anthony Fera gone, Texas faces some big question marks at both spots. New special teams coach Chris Vaughn wants to see all his options in action and put each kicker and punter through pressure situations to see who comes out on top.

Key midterm enrollee: This is a shorter list than usual this year, as only three signees joined the program in January. But tight end Blake Whiteley will be the most interesting to watch. The Arizona Western Community College transfer has everything you’d want in the size department -- 6-foot-5, 245 pounds -- and was a 1,000-yard receiver during his high school days. Texas hasn't had a feared pass-catcher at that spot in a long time.

Question that could be answered: Which players can hang with the new brand of Texas football? That’s been the critical question throughout offseason workouts, and Strong and his staff will get much more definitive answers in the next month. Those who can keep up will stand out. Those who can’t might not be on the roster much longer. Expect some attrition after spring ball ends, as is often the case with new regimes.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: The quarterback job. It’s possible USC transfer Max Wittek does not reach a final decision on his destination until April or May, and freshman Jerrod Heard arrives not long after that. Both will make a run at the job (if Wittek chooses UT), and we won’t know where things stand with Ash’s long-term health until he starts taking hits again. He won’t see any in spring ball, that’s for sure. Texas coaches are excited about having Ash for two more seasons, but they’ll also put a high value on competition.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 has forged a national identity of elite quarterbacking. In fact, dating back to 2000, the Big 12 had a quarterback become a Heisman finalist in every season but three.

Last season, however, that identity all but vanished.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight torched Alabama for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Bryce Petty briefly emerged into a Heisman contender at Baylor. But otherwise it was a dismal season for quarterbacking according to the Big 12’s high standards. Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf was named the league’s second-team quarterback despite starting only half of 2013. Nine of the league’s 10 teams juggled starting quarterbacks well into October.

But thanks to breakout performances during the bowl season, coupled with the imminent arrival of numerous blue-chip freshmen, the conference appears on the way back to restoring its quarterbacking reputation heading into spring practice.

Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have their starters cemented. Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and West Virginia will welcome true freshmen with the pedigrees and opportunities to compete for jobs right away. And Kansas (Montell Cozart) and Iowa State (Grant Rohach) enjoyed promising moments from a pair of freshmen.

After totaling 46 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his first season as the starter, Petty headlines the position in the league again.

But if the bowl season was any indication, he won’t be the lone headliner.

Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to the level backup Blake Bell asked to change his position to tight end.

In the National University Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb lit up Arizona State, too, driving Michael Brewer to ask for a transfer.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters capped a red-hot second half of his season by throwing for three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Knight, Webb and Waters delivered three of college football’s 10 best bowl performances according to the Adjusted QBR metric. All three rapidly improved in their first seasons. And that rapid improvement figures only to continue in their second.

“Traditionally, Year 2 in the offense is when you see the most growth in a quarterback,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Of the three, Knight was the only full-time starter to begin the season. Spearheaded by a dazzling preseason, he beat out Bell, who was the favorite to replace four-year starter Landry Jones. But Knight completed just 21 of his first 48 pass attempts, and after a knee injury, lost the job to Bell not even two games in.

Knight, however, emerged late in the season, and displaying improvement with his accuracy, led the Sooners to a late November win at Kansas State. Then in the Sugar Bowl, he finally showed why he won the job originally in August. Against one of the nation’s most dominant defenses, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes as the Sooners toppled the Crimson Tide in one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history.

“If you’re going to win a championship, your quarterback is going to have to make plays,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We all saw Trevor [struggle] as a young freshman, first start, first game. To see him grow throughout the entire year and play extremely well down the stretch and played really well in the Sugar Bowl, obviously -- he’s obviously got a great future.”

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesTexas Tech signal-caller Davis Webb had a breakout performance against Arizona State, completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
The same goes for Webb.

Despite being the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster in August, Webb was beaten out by walk-on true freshman Baker Mayfield. But like Knight, Webb settled in behind the scenes. After Mayfield injured his knee, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. Then, after Mayfield transferred, Webb was almost flawless against the Sun Devils. He passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns as Texas Tech controlled the game the entire night.

“The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be,” Kingsbury said.

Waters’ bowl success showed the same.

Out of junior college, Waters beat out Daniel Sams for the starting job to begin the season. But with Waters taking the majority of the snaps, K-State fell in its season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The next two months weren’t much better for Waters or the Wildcats, as the defending Big 12 champs stumbled to a 2-4 start.

But after losing snaps to Sams, Waters reestablished control of the position and quarterbacked K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, including a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the bowl. Waters had his best outing yet, too, completing 78 percent of his passes for three touchdowns.

While Waters, Webb and Knight will be looking to build off their bowl performances this spring, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph will be looking to win a job. Perhaps the most highly acclaimed quarterback the Cowboys have ever signed, Rudolph had a monster senior season in Rock Hill, S.C., throwing for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. Enrolled for spring ball, the ESPN 300 recruit will challenge J.W. Walsh.

“Mason really brings all of the characteristics you want to see in a quarterback,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “All of the intangibles.”

Plenty more quarterback talent is on its way, too.

Texas’ Jerrod Heard, West Virginia’s William Crest and TCU’s Foster Sawyer were also four-star recruits in the 2014 class, and they will be joining their schools in the summer with chances to play right away.

Such opportunities exist because the Big 12 quarterback play was down last season. But heading to spring, the league’s most identifiable position is on its way back up.

Incoming impact countdown: Nos. 4-8

February, 20, 2014
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Now that they’ve signed their letters of intent, Texas’ incoming recruits can officially toss their stars in the trash. They don’t matter now.

While such ratings and rankings are helpful throughout the recruiting process, they mean nothing once a kid sets foot on campus and joins the program.

Gold stars won’t decide who gets to play as a freshman. Preparation, fit, need, raw talent, confidence, some good fortune -- a whole lot of real stuff matters now. Which members of Texas’ 2014 class have a chance to help out the Longhorns from day one?

This week we’re breaking down the Texas signees by their ability to make an early impact during their time on the 40 Acres, counting down from No. 23 to No. 1. If you missed it, here were the first three parts.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Joe
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas has a logjam at receiver, but don't be surprised if Lorenzo Joe contributes this fall.
8. WR Lorenzo Joe
Abilene Cooper | 6-2, 190


2013: 1,864 passing yards, 13 passing TDs, 1,657 rushing yards, 22 rushing TDs

Joe is one of the clear-cut leaders of this class and one of its most intriguing athletes. Abilene Cooper wisely played Joe at quarterback in an effort to put the ball in the hands of its best player as much as possible, and he thrived in that capacity. But Joe has been working to refine his receiving skills on the side throughout during the two years, and won’t be as raw as you’d think by the time fall camp arrives.

The logjam at receiver has been well-documented in this series, so it’s once again difficult to peg where Joe fits into this mix and who he’s capable of surpassing on the depth chart. Devoting a year to the wide receiver position will be good for him, and Joe is talented enough to help the Longhorns in 2014.

7. CB Jermaine Roberts
New Orleans St. Augustine | 5-9, 170

2013: 56 tackles, 6 interceptions, 1 kick return TD

Roberts considers himself a game-changer akin to Tyrann Mathieu, and the Louisiana native will show up in Austin with immeasurable confidence and swagger, both on and off the field. But where does he fit in from Day 1?

There could be an opening at corner depending on how defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn approach replacing Carrington Byndom, or maybe Roberts can step in and help on nickel and dime coverage immediately. He’s at least got a shot at finding a role on special teams, and he’ll want a shot at returning kicks. This kid wants to play, and he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself.

6. RB Donald Catalon
Houston Eisenhower | 6-0, 200

2013: 866 rushing yards, 410 receiving yards, 9 TDs, 38 tackles, 1 interception

As is the case with the other running back signees in this class, it’s possible Catalon could end up at another position besides running back during his career. He shows enough natural instincts and skills to play in the secondary. Is that where he’s most likely to maximize his potential? Too soon to tell.

What we do know is Texas needs help at running back this fall, and Catalon would appear to have the clearest path to entering that stable and contributing. He’s a slasher with a nice combination of speed and power, but he’s got work to do if he wants to get on the level of Texas’ three incumbent backs.

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Max Olson/ESPNBarring injuries at the QB position, the best option for Jerrod Heard and Texas might be to redshirt in 2014.
5. QB Jerrod Heard
Denton Guyer | 6-2, 190

2013: 2,148 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 2,172 rushing yards, 28 rushing TDs

Why, you ask, is Heard not at the top of this list? Because where we stand today, it still seems like a redshirt is the more probable outcome for Heard in his freshman campaign. That seems even more likely if Texas does end up landing former USC quarterback Max Wittek via transfer.

Heard is special. We’ve written that he’s the quarterback of the future for the Longhorns. That’s still true if he doesn’t play in 2014, and that year would be a remarkably valuable experience. All bets are off if David Ash goes down, obviously, but right now the smartest course of action would be keeping Heard on the bench and letting him soak in the knowledge Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline offer.

4. DT Poona Ford
Hilton Head (S.C.) | 6-1, 288

2013: 135 tackles, 28 TFLs, seven sacks, 17 QB pressures, two forced fumbles

This is one bad dude. Power, quick feet and a knack for inflicting pain -- that, in a nutshell, is what Ford can bring to the table. And Texas coaches made it perfectly clear to him during his recruitment that he was a need, a must-get who can play from Day 1 if he brings his best.

The depth behind Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway is questionable at best. Playing time is there for the taking so long as Ford takes care of his business. And what else can he do? Well, he did play some fullback last fall. Enjoy.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: QBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
3:00
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, beginning Tuesday with quarterback. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's return leaves Baylor sitting pretty at the most important position on the field.
1. Baylor: The Bears have the reigning first-team All-Big 12 quarterback in Bryce Petty, who should be even better in his second season as a starter. In 2013, Petty led the Big 12 in QBR, and was on the short list of Heisman candidates until mid-November. His play dipped a bit late in the season, but Petty still finished with 44 total touchdowns to just three interceptions. He will start out on the Heisman short list again in 2014. The Bears also have a viable backup in Seth Russell.

2. Kansas State: Junior college transfer Jake Waters was one of the most improved players in the league over the course of the season. Waters split time with Daniel Sams through the first half of the year, but eventually took command of the starting position and spearheaded the Wildcats to wins in six of their last seven games to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason. Like Petty, Waters should only get better in his second season as a starter. Sams figures to be moved around this spring, but he has proven he can step in at QB, too.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners were one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in the league, notably during double-digit losses to Texas and Baylor. But with one game, OU’s situation looks completely different. In just his fifth career start, freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, leading the Sooners to one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history. Insiders in Norman always thought Knight had the talent. The switch just finally flipped in New Orleans. Even with Blake Bell moving to tight end, the Sooners have depth with former four-star QBs Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen.

4. Texas Tech: Davis Webb also delivered one of the best bowl performances of any quarterback. After Baker Mayfield transferred, the plan was for Webb to split snaps with Michael Brewer against Arizona State. But Webb played so well, that plan was scrapped. Webb had the fourth-best QBR of any bowl to lead Tech to the upset. Webb actually played pretty well before the bowl, too, and has a promising future in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, however, are thin here. With Mayfield and Brewer transferring, Patrick Mahomes is Tech’s only other scholarship QB, and he doesn’t arrive until the summer.

5. Oklahoma State: To enjoy success here, the Cowboys will need J.W. Walsh to return to his efficient 2012 form. Or, they will need Mason Rudolph to emerge as a true freshman the way Wes Lunt did two springs ago. Walsh took a step back as a sophomore. He completed 67 percent of his passes in 2012, but just 59 percent last season, and eventually lost his job back to Clint Chelf. Rudolph, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, had no such issues completing passes in high school, connecting on 72 percent for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. If Walsh’s arm strength continues to be a problem, Rudolph could quickly go from QB of the future to QB of the now.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesA healthy David Ash would be a welcome sight for Charlie Strong.
6. Texas: The Longhorns might have the most fluid quarterback predicament in the Big 12. Quarterback play haunted Mack Brown the last four years, but will it haunt Charlie Strong in his first season? That could hinge heavily on the health of David Ash, who missed almost all of last season because of concussion issues. The school says Ash will be ready to go for the spring. But if he suffers another head injury, the Longhorns could be in a fix. Tyrone Swoopes has wheels and a big arm, but still needs a lot of polish, and four-star signee Jerrod Heard won’t be in Austin until the summer.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have no fewer than four quarterbacks with a reasonable chance of becoming the starter. Paul Millard and Clint Trickett shared duties last season, though neither seized the position. Millard is playing baseball, and Trickett is still banged up. That could open the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard to make a move on the job. Keep an eye on true freshman William Crest, though. Crest, the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country, won’t arrive until after the spring. But the Mountaineers have had success with mobile freshman quarterbacks before.

8. TCU: The Horned Frogs first must decide what they’re going to do with Trevone Boykin. But they can’t afford to leave him at receiver until another viable option surfaces at QB. Tyler Matthews didn’t look ready in limited action, but the Horned Frogs have a pair of intriguing possibilities in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Neither, however, will arrive until the summer, meaning TCU’s QB situation will remain unresolved past the spring.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones have the requisite skill talent to bounce back from a disappointing season. But that won’t happen until they stop playing musical quarterbacks. The answer could be Grant Rohach, who played well late in his redshirt freshman season. Sam B. Richardson will also be in the mix. Richardson was never healthy last year, and had the same kind of promising finish in 2012 that Rohach delivered last season. The darkhorse will be Joel Lanning, who redshirted last year. Lanning, who signed with Iowa State over Nebraska, has the arm to make this a three-way battle.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks add another player to the Jake Heaps/Montell Cozart timeshare in UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Neither Heaps nor Cozart did enough to warrant full-time snaps, so Millweard, a former four-star recruit, will have his chance this spring.

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