The Texas Longhorns have a lot to prove under new head coach Charlie Strong and his staff. But the position with the most to prove remains the quarterback.
The Longhorns have finished four seasons without a viable quarterback option. Junior David Ash started the 2013 season with a lot of potential, but he suffered what turned out to be a season-ending head injury in Week 2, leaving Texas to rely on backup quarterback Case McCoy.
Ash was recently released to return to team workouts and is expected to participate in spring practice, according to Rivals.com's Taylor Gaspar:
Texas QB David Ash has been cleared for team workouts and is anticipated to participate in Spring practice. #Longhorns— Taylor Gaspar (@Taylor_Gaspar) January 19, 2014
It's no secret that teams with the best quarterbacks are more likely to win the big games over teams with QB issues. Since 2000, 12 of 13 Heisman trophy winners were quarterbacks on teams that finished in the BCS Top 25.
Ash's career stats are decent, but decent quarterbacks rarely win championships.
Let's assume Ash does not suffer any more head injuries and is the same quarterback he was prior to his concussion. Who is that quarterback?
During his time in Austin, he has completed 63.2 percent of his 579 passing attempts. Meanwhile, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel—who was not offered by Texas—completed 68.9 percent of his 863 passing attempts during his time in College Station.
Texas fans are probably sick of hearing the Ash-Manziel comparisons, but the numbers don't lie.
Ash and Manziel were both 3-star quarterbacks in 2011. Manziel ranked No. 45 and Ash ranked No. 47 in the state of Texas, according to Rivals.com.
They had similar rankings but nowhere near similar college careers.
The good news for Ash is that he has a fresh start under new quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. However, he is not the only quarterback who will benefit from a fresh start.
For the first time since his freshman season, Ash may have to fight for the starting role. Freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes received some playing time in 2013 but did not get much opportunity to display his talents. He completed five of just 13 passing attempts in six games. Those numbers do not really answer any questions about his potential.
But Ash and Swoopes have until the Orange-White spring game on April 19 to make their case as the guy for Strong and Watson. After spring, true freshman verbal commit Jerrod Heard will be added to the mix.
Heard finished his high school career with 11,461 total yards and 134 touchdowns while leading Denton's John H. Guyer High School to two 4A state championships.
Should Ash and Swoopes be concerned that Heard will take their jobs? His high school numbers suggest the answer to that question is yes. But high school and college football are entirely different, and as it is for almost every incoming freshman, he will experience an adjustment period upon moving to the college game.
At this point, it is nearly impossible for anyone to determine what Swoopes or Heard can do at the college level. So if all goes well for Ash, he will likely enter 2014 as the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. Not necessarily because he is the best option, but because he has the most experience.
That does not mean he won't be looking over his shoulder, though.
If history holds form, he could be replaced, just like Longhorns quarterback Chance Mock was replaced by up-and-coming star Vince Young circa 2003-2004.
At times, Ash has shown the ability to be a great quarterback. At other times, he has not. And coming from Louisville, Watson is used to having a star QB—i.e., Teddy Bridgewater.
So the question remains: Can Ash become the elite quarterback of the future for the Longhorns, or is he simply a placeholder until someone else takes over his role?
Only time will tell.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's lead writer covering Texas Longhorns football. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar