Given all the swirling juiciness surrounding the Texas Longhorns football program, one almost forgets about the student-athlete constituents.
The Longhorns (8-4, 7-2) have battled injuries across several fronts, including at quarterback, where senior Case McCoy has performed valiantly in place of the injured David Ash.
But regardless of what has happened in 2013 and what will happen in the Alamo Bowl, the focus will eventually turn to the 2014 season. And whatever happens with the head-coaching position and the rest of the football staff, the Longhorns need to have a concrete Plan A and Plan B for their quarterback position.
Ash, who has missed nine games this year, will be the obvious incumbent. But with a red flag on Ash's re-injury potential, Texas needs support at its backup quarterback spot.
Enter Tyrone Swoopes, a physically gifted dual-threat QB who has the tools to become something special at the position.
Swoopes, who will be a sophomore in 2014, played in very limited situations this season, snaps that may or may not have aided in his development.
But after the handling of his freshman year, Swoopes will become a big part of the plan on offense by default.
Swoopes enrolled early at Texas, getting a jump start on his acclimation to the college level.
The 6'4" signal-caller wowed the crowd in the Orange and White spring game, showcasing the open-field abilities that earned him an invitation to the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. At 245 pounds, Swoopes is a load to bring down and picks up big chunks on the run.
But can his arm develop into something special?
Swoopes threw for 3,850 yards and 41 touchdowns in high school, but his 5,341 rushing yards and 73 touchdowns are easily the bigger talking point. He will undoubtedly draw comparisons to a particular No. 10 who did some special things in a Texas uniform.
Swoopes will definitely see the field next season, but the circumstances of his playing time may become a defining moment.
The 'What If' Game
The junior Ash has not played since the win over Kansas State. An initial concussion knocked him out of the BYU game and kept him out against Ole Miss, and the lingering issues forced Ash to miss almost the entire year.
Ash, a Belton product, is expected to return for spring football at 100 percent. But Texas fans have to ask, what if? What if Ash goes down again?
If Ash misses extended time again, Texas will be starting Swoopes, another young quarterback with virtually no meaningful experience (think Garrett Gilbert in 2009 and Ash in 2010).
Ideally, Ash plays out the 2014 season with no injury hiccups, leaving Swoopes plenty of time to get significant game snaps and develop with little to no pressure. That gives Swoopes ammunition going into the 2015 season to compete for the starting position, assuming Ash is gone by then.
|Tyrone Swoopes' 2013 Numbers|
|Comp-Att||Pass Yards||Rush Att-Yards||TDs|
On the other side, Swoopes may be forced into the fire if Ash goes down. He made five appearances in the regular season, but he hardly got the necessary exposure to make him ready should something happen to Ash next year.
Again, Swoopes will see the field in 2014. How, exactly, is the question.
The Bigger Picture
There are plenty of variables that will determine what happens for the Longhorns in the next few seasons.
These are all questions that cannot be answered at this very moment, but each answer will change the shape of tomorrow significantly.
Swoopes figures to be a player, regardless. A quarterback with this kind of athleticism cannot be overlooked, but the picture will become much clearer as Texas moves into the offseason and into spring football.
The Bottom Line
"Uncertainty" is the word when talking about the Texas program. It's everywhere.
It's in the front office, it's on the field, and it's in the locker room. It's infiltrated the coaching staff and the fanbase.
Swoopes' time will come, and there is an apparent 10-pronged fork in the road ahead.