Besides the future of head coach Mack Brown, perhaps no individual topic related to Texas football has been more scrutinized than what to do with freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.
The 6'4", 245-pound newcomer wowed fans in a brief appearance in the Longhorns' spring game. Once starter David Ash went down with a concussion in September, and when the season essentially looked over at 1-2, it was natural to wonder whether it would be the Swoopes Show from there on out.
Senior Case McCoy has been starting, but Swoopes' redshirt was burned last month against TCU when Swoopes entered the game in garbage time. Since it doesn't sound like Ash will return this season, the decision made sense: Start McCoy, but prepare Swoopes by giving him game experience.
But, in three games, Swoopes has seven passing attempts for 18 yards and 10 rushes for 40 yards. That, understandably, has already led to questioning of how Brown is handling Swoopes' situation. And, fair or not, the narrative about Brown misjudging quarterback recruits will be held against him.
Before apologizing for this loss, Mack should probably apologize to Tyrone Swoopes for taking his redshirt season from him.— Geoff Ketchum (@gkketch) November 16, 2013
However, the scenario is a bit more complex than it's given credit for. If Texas was facing another 2010-type season and sitting with four wins, the decision to see what Swoopes could do in a starting role would be an easier one to make.
That's simply not the case. Texas, regardless of how good or bad it is, or how well- or poorly-coached it is, is still 6-1 in Big 12 play with an opportunity to win the conference title.
The Longhorns don't control their Big 12 championship destiny, but they're certainly not out of the picture. If the goal is to win the final two games of the season against Texas Tech and Baylor, then Brown has a responsibility to put the best players on the field.
As odd as it sounds, McCoy is probably the better option at quarterback. Though he's wildly inconsistent, McCoy's better moments are actually pretty impressive. Plus, history suggests that if the game is on the line, McCoy is the guy you want leading a two-minute drill.
The problem is McCoy will also have a three-interception game like he did in the 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State in Week 12. It's a risk for Texas coaches to start McCoy because they will live or die by his confidence.
But, ultimately, it would be a snap judgment to bail on McCoy in favor of Swoopes, especially with so much to play for in the final two games. The other thing to factor in is whether Swoopes at his best in this stage of his game is better than McCoy at his worst.
What role should Tyrone Swoopes play in Texas' offense?
There's only one way to find out: work Swoopes into the game plan—and in more than just garbage time. The redshirt is off, so the risk of injuring Swoopes is there whether he plays five snaps or 15. Yet, coaches want to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Well, the only way Swoopes is going to be able to handle the chaos of a live game is by putting him in one.
The benefit could work both ways, too. By putting Swoopes into the game, Texas coaches are forcing opposing teams to account for another player who runs and throws. Texas' offense, which relies heavily on the running game, could use an extra wrinkle or two to open things up.
And, who knows, maybe Swoopes performs so well he takes the starting job right from McCoy. There's no way to know unless he's put in a situation to win, not one where he's winding down the game clock.
The redshirt is off either way. Texas might as well see what it has with Swoopes.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.