For the first time since 2009, the Texas Longhorns will return an incumbent starter in David Ash under center. But is he really the one to lead the team back to the forefront of college football? If the mercurial Tyrone Swoopes continues on his accelerated learning curve, Ash could lose his starting status before Week 1.
Ash was unconvincing in Texas' spring game, throwing two interceptions to close the first half while being overshadowed by Swoopes' one series of play. He is still firmly ensconced as the starter, but this is not the progress fans had hoped for at this stage of his career.
It is unlikely, but with him failing to own the quarterback position, and with the abilities of those behind him on the depth chart, Ash could lose his starting status before the start of the season.
The foremost question surrounding David Ash is whether or not he has the "it" factor to lead the Longhorns back to BCS prominence. From what we have seen throughout his career, he just does not possess that trait.
"It" is a combination of poise under pressure, confidence to own one of the most scrutinized jobs in sports and the ability to make the impossible happen. Unfortunately, these are traits that do not characterize Ash, who struggled to overcome tough starts against Oklahoma, Kansas and TCU in 2012. He has also failed to win over fans and teammates alike in the spring, evidenced by the fact that everyone is buzzing over a freshman rather than him.
There are different ways to display the "it factor." For example, Vince Young and Colt McCoy are two totally different quarterback types, but both found a way to successfully lead. In spite of his improvement, Ash just has not found a way to take command of this team.
Texas simply has to have a quarterback that can beat the Oklahoma Sooners—more specifically, a quarterback that does not turn the ball over against them, an area in which Ash has struggled against his team's arch-rivals.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has David Ash's number. In two games against the Sooners, Ash has completed less than 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and four interceptions. This is even worse considering that the winner of the turnover battle has won the Red River Shootout the last 11 years.
This goes back to Ash not having the intangibles to play quarterback for this team. He has had some big games in dire situations, but he has crumbled twice in the most crucial game of the year. And second place is not good enough for the Longhorns in 2013.
Ash no longer stands alone as the team's most athletic quarterback.
Hurry-up, spread offenses are most effective when run by supremely athletic quarterbacks. Texas has two quarterbacks that are better athletes than Ash, and both are capable of taking snaps away from him in some capacity.
The classic example of a spread quarterback getting scrubbed out for a more athletic quarterback is last year's Oregon team. Highly-effective starter Darron Thomas had to bolt early for the NFL because he was going to be replaced by the bigger, more athletic Marcus Mariota. Mariota was the better thrower, which also factored into the decision, but his size-speed combination sealed the deal.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Ash is a good athlete but nothing like redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet and freshman Tyrone Swoopes. In fact, unless he is redshirted, Swoopes is already being considered for short-yardage situations, much like Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida in 2006. And that is after only three months of practice.
If either Overstreet or Swoopes become a serviceable passer in the summer, there is little keeping Ash atop the depth chart.
In just three months of practice, Tyrone Swoopes has already staked his claim as the Longhorns' quarterback of the future. With almost five months before the season, that reality could be realized in time for the start of the season.
Swoopes has made the most of his early enrollment. He has already added 20 pounds to his 6'5" frame, making himself into a battering ram at 250 pounds. But most importantly, he has improved enough as a passer to jump redshirt freshmen Jalen Overstreet and Connor Brewer on the depth chart.
Following the spring game, Swoopes' stock has climbed through the roof. He carved up the defense for 26 rushing yards on four attempts, with two of his runs coming when he was dead-to-rights in the backfield.
Swoopes' accelerated development likely makes Ash a lame duck under center if he remains the starter throughout the season. And if the junior does not take better command of the offense than his two-interception performance in the spring game dictates, it may make the most sense to get the future started a season early.