When the final gun sounded in Texas A&M's 27-21 loss to Louisville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Wednesday, it didn't only signify the end of a disappointing season, it signaled the start of the most important race of head coach Kevin Sumlin's career.
The race to find the next Aggies quarterback.
Sophomore Kyle Allen and freshman Kyler Murray—both former 5-star prospects—left the program in December, leaving redshirt sophomore Jake Hubenak as Sumlin's best and only option vs. Louisville on Tuesday night in Nashville.
Predictably, his performance was inconsistent.
The junior college transfer completed 28 of his 48 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, which looks solid on paper. But he threw one interception, fumbled another time and looked uncomfortable in the pocket from the moment the game started until he mounted a furious comeback to get within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
Sumlin: Once [Hubenak] settled down, he was fine. Had great demeanor. For him to do what he did to give us a chance, gotta be proud of him.2015-12-31 04:33:13
As Aubrey Bloom of the Bryan-College Station Eagle noted on Twitter, Hubenak looked like a player who, quite frankly, was thrown into the fire.
Aubrey Bloom @aubreybloom
Hubenak isn’t just inaccurate so far, he’s not seeing open guys. He’s had some guys open for easy passes and didn’t see it.2015-12-31 01:24:47
It's a small sample size to judge Hubenak based the bowl game under trying circumstances, and breaking the 300-yard mark should give Sumlin some hope. But by no means is Hubenak set in stone as "the next big thing."
What's compounding issues for Sumlin is the fact that they hadn't intended to sign a high school quarterback in this class since Allen and Murray are both underclassmen, and it's very late in the game to get in one some of the nation's best signal-callers.
The solution is the graduate transfer market, which Sumlin has to hit with a vengeance for the next five months.
I already touched on why former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, who's serving as "Deshaun Watson" on the Sooner scout team prior to the meeting with Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl national semifinal, needs to be in College Station.
But at this point, Sumlin can't limit himself to the pursuit of one graduate transfer quarterback. He needs to cast a wide net.
One potential signal-caller announced on Tuesday that he's leaving a program within the Lone Star State—Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb.
Davis Webb @Davis_Webb7
Thank You Texas Tech University. #GunsUp https://t.co/csyPKhmhCe2015-12-31 01:38:37
The Prosper, Texas, native has thrown 46 touchdowns over the last three seasons, but only two this year as sophomore Pat Mahomes took control of the job and became a star.
Sumlin needs to hit Webb up as quickly as possible, because there likely won't be a better option on the graduate transfer market.
Is he Johnny Manziel?
Of course not.
Nobody is, and any search for "the next Manziel" in College Station needs to take a back seat in favor of a search for anybody with experience who's halfway decent, can push Hubenak and give Sumlin options.
Hubenak could improve this offseason and win the job. His improvement simply within the Music City Bowl was impressive, and he gave Aggie fans a little bit of hope to close out the darkest quarterback month of Sumlin's tenure in College Station.
The market is open, and Sumlin should be yelling "buy, buy, buy" until he finds a graduate transfer to become the next contender to win the job.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.