Texas' quarterback situation is anything but a sure thing. Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that one of the surest things of the offseason has become suddenly unsure.
USC quarterback transfer Max Wittek has, as far as anyone is concerned, been a virtual lock to come to Texas for months. He's taken multiple visits and would add to a position that needs competition.
However, multiple reports surfaced Wednesday that Wittek-to-Texas may be falling through.
Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Texas was "backing away" from Wittek for undisclosed reasons. Joe Schad of ESPN.com added that Wittek is not expected to transfer to Texas because an "off-the-field circumstance could possibly lead to a delay in Wittek's graduation and gaining immediate eligibility."
For what it's worth, Wittek told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports that he's unaware of any change with Texas. Wittek still plans to select a school later this month.
Whatever the story is, there now appears to be a very real chance that Wittek doesn't land in Austin. So where does first-year head coach Charlie Strong turn? He basically has three options: Incumbent starter, though oft-injured, David Ash, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard.
Let's start with Heard, since he has the least likely chance of being named the Week 1 starter against North Texas. Heard is a highly touted 4-star recruit, per 247Sports composite rankings, but he joins the team later this summer. That means he'll only have preseason camp to prove to the coaches that he's the guy.
That's a lot to ask of anyone who is still getting acclimated to the team and college life. There's a lot of physical and mental maturation that usually takes precedence over everything else during that time.
"He's going to have a chance because he is going to be out there," Strong said of Heard, via Bleacher Report's Taylor Gaspar. "But the thing is that the guys who are here now know the system, and Jerrod has to come in and learn the system when he gets here in June."
Swoopes is a more likely option to start in Week 1 for the Longhorns than Heard, but he's also shown that he has a long ways to go in his development.
Swoopes struggled in limited action as a freshman last season, completing just five of 13 passes for 26 yards. Considered a rushing threat, Swoopes still only averaged 2.8 yards per carry outside of his season-long 26-yard run in the Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon.
Because Ash was held out of the final stretch of spring with a fractured foot, Swoopes was thrust into a first-team role in time for the Horns' spring game. Swoopes started slow—quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said, per ESPN's Max Olson, that Swoopes had "a little deer-in-the-headlights look"—but improved as the game went on.
There's no doubt Swoopes, at 6'4", 245 pounds, has the physical tools to be a successful quarterback. He just has to show in the offseason that he's made significant progress in understanding the playbook and the position.
Otherwise, first-team reps won't be given to him in preseason camp like they were toward the end of spring.
Rather, Ash could emerge as the first-team quarterback early in preseason practices. (He'll have recovered from his foot injury by then.) Ash has the most experience and he's shown flashes of being a top-tier signal-caller. His problem has been staying healthy—he missed most of last season with a concussion—and consequently, consistency.
However, Strong praised Ash earlier this spring for stepping up in a way a No. 1 quarterback should. From Gaspar's previous article:
You would have never known that he had the injury by just how well he has been practicing and the way he has been carrying himself. I wouldn't say that he is the clear No. 1, but he has established himself. He did a great job learning the offense and terminology and wanting to lead the team.
Unless Swoopes makes major progress this summer and/or Ash regresses, the redshirt junior probably gives Texas the best chance to win heading into Week 1.
Of course, no one has run away with the job yet, meaning August will be a critical month for all three quarterbacks.
And if Texas has shown us anything, it's that the quarterback spot is no sure thing.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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