Max Wittek is ineligible to transfer to Texas this summer, significantly increasing the odds that Jerrod Heard will play quarterback for the Longhorns as a true freshman in 2014.
According to a report from Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Wittek will not graduate until December. As a result, the ex-USC quarterback will be unable to play immediately for any FBS program this season.
That leaves head coach Charlie Strong with David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes and the incoming 4-star recruit Heard as the program's only legitimate options at quarterback. He does still have emergency option Miles Onyegbule and could also bring in a JUCO transfer like Allen Thigpen, but those three are the only ones who should see the field.
While that might have looked like a promising situation at the start of the spring, the distance between Heard and the field is closer than ever with Wittek out of the picture. The concussion-prone Ash is dealing with a complicated foot injury, and the second-stringer, Swoopes, threw a pick against the backups in the spring game.
Had Wittek been able to complete his transfer, worst-case scenarios with one or both of these players would have meant the Longhorns could turn to an experienced player. Instead, they may have to burn Heard's redshirt—a less than ideal situation for the coaching staff.
Texas has played four quarterbacks since Colt McCoy graduated in 2009—Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, David Ash and the aforementioned Swoopes. Rather than spend a redshirt season learning how to be college quarterbacks, each had to play as true freshmen because of the position's lack of depth.
Now Heard's own redshirt season stands to be the latest casualty of this same issue.
As his tape shows, Heard is certainly a talented player. He is an electric dual-threat, and his stats—6,512 passing yards, 65 passing touchdowns, 24 interceptions in three years at Guyer High School in Denton, Texas—show continuous, consistent improvement from the two-time state champion.
Raw talent aside, the 6'3" quarterback has exhibited all of the qualities required of a team leader. Whether it was taking extra visits to help woo other recruits, spending spring break with quarterback guru George Whitfield or simply wowing those around him with his maturity, Heard looks and acts the part.
As Whitfield told Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts:
Jerrod is extremely confident. Zero flinch mentality. He is always game, but he's always present. Reminds me a lot of Andrew Luck. Luck and Cam Newton, when you're around them, you're going back and forth with dialogue and those guys are always present, asking questions.
He's awfully mature for how young he is.
So while the lack of depth remains troubling, Heard could prove to be the exception that is capable of going straight from high school standout to college starter. And if that's the case, then Strong has said he would open to giving him the same shot he gave Teddy Bridgewater in 2011.
All signs point to Heard taking the reins by 2015, but this season still depends on Ash and Swoopes. If Ash is healthy, he will be the starter. Otherwise, it is Swoopes' job as long as he can make the throws he needs to while hurting the defense with his legs.
Eberts has stated that there is a 25 percent chance Ash's foot will not have healed by the fall, and his concussion risk makes it 50-50 whether he lasts the entire season. As for Swoopes, the odds are about the same that he will be ready to be a starting quarterback by the start of the season.
Considering that and the chance that Heard could beat out Swoopes for the backup job, you can count on seeing at least some of the program's future on the field as a true freshman.
Recruit statistics, rankings and information provided by 247Sports unless otherwise noted.