David Ash is healthy and will be Texas' starting quarterback for as long as that holds true. But due to his history of injuries, the battle for the backup job could be just as important to the Longhorns' prospects for the 2014 season.
For better and worse, Case McCoy has exhausted his eligibility and will no longer be next in line behind Ash. It's a plus that we will never again see one of those wobbling sidearm lobs again on a college football field, but it leaves Texas without any experience behind Ash in fall camp.
Ash has missed 11 games and played hurt in at least two more, so that increases the chances we see a start from either Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard. In turn, there's a high bust factor for Charlie Strong's first season, but a healthy Ash could just as easily make it a 9- or 10-win campaign.
Ash is the swing factor this season. With him, the Longhorns will be competitive in almost every game and have a chance to hit the fan-made 10-win goal.
But if he goes down, this team is going to struggle.
He isn't one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but Ash has the ability to cover up a lot of Texas' shortcomings. As shown by his YPA in 2012 and his brief appearances in 2013, he can get the ball down the field, and do so with accuracy. That's as important as anything in the Big 12.
The issue, of course, is whether Ash do that for 12 regular-season games. He's missed 11 games with injuries to his wrist and head before missing most of the spring with a foot injury. He's mostly back from the foot injury according top 247Sports.com's Jeff Howe, but the concussions will always muddy the waters.
That combined history makes it hard to trust in a player that otherwise would inspire great confidence in the upcoming season.
When you're talking about a dropoff in just about every conceivable way, the one from Ash to his backups is a prime example.
For now, Tyrone Swoopes and his 1.1 YPA are next in line should Ash succumb to another injury. He started the spring game in the junior's stead, completing 17 of his 30 passes for 229 yards and three scores. Those numbers indicate progress, but we can't forget that they came against the backups.
What Swoopes brings is a ton of potential. A better athlete now than a quarterback, the 6'5", 240-pounder can hum it downfield with the best of them and is always a threat to pick up yards with his feet. We just have no idea if he can do that in a game against an opponent's first-team defense.
The upside is there for Swoopes. But with this next guy already coming up in the system, his days as a quarterback may be numbered.
He's here, and the future may begin sooner than expected with Jerrod Heard taking over the quarterback position.
Lost in the Howe's report about Ash's health is that Heard, the nation's top dual-threat prospect in 2014, is splitting the snaps with Swoopes. The 'Horns don't have any other options, but this kid's personality is to run with every opportunity he gets, as he told CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:
I feel like I can play. Like coach said, it is up to me, but it's also how the situation goes.
The (QB) job is an open situation, especially with the new coaching staff and a new system coming in. It's an open job, so I'm going to try and get in, get my opportunity and take over.
And when you take a look at Heard's track record, you share the feeling. The two-time state title winner spent the summer working with George Whitfield, who has also mentored the likes of Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
Heard is talented, well-rounded and motivated. Him seeing the field will mean some growing pains, but he will bring a level of excitement that Texas has lacked since 2009.