Wind the clocks back to a mild night on the 7th of January, 2010, in beautiful Pasadena, California.
Alabama and Texas are set to square off in what promises to be a star-studded National Championship game. The Tide have Heisman winner Mark Ingram leading their attack, while the Horns boast Colt McCoy, the winningest quarterback in college football history.
The game begins and the anticipation builds with each passing moment. The game's first crucial moment occurs when Nick Saban calls a fake punt pass deep in his own territory, only to watch it be picked off by Texas safety Blake Gideon.
Texas is in business now.
McCoy completes a quick pass to his left to Jordan Shipley for about five yards. He then hands off to running back Tre' Newton, who gains another 12 yards. The Horns are prepared to draw first blood.
On the next play, McCoy runs a quarterback draw. Seeing that the middle is clogged up, he tries to roll off the pile and run to his left, but defensive end Marcell Dareus has already made impact with McCoy's right shoulder.
A hush descends over the crowd.
Mack Brown slowly chews on his lower lip, arms crossed against his chest.
As the ailing McCoy, arm dangling lifelessly at his side, walks towards the sideline, offensive coordinator Greg Davis can be heard whispering from the press box, "No..wait no...this isn't right...I've called so many of those designed quarterback runs, and they've never let me down before. Damn running game, damn Marcell Dareus...who the heck do we have left? Garrett something or other?"
Young Garrett Gilbert quickly removes his cap and searches aimlessly for his helmet on the sideline. Similarly, Brown and Davis are searching just as frantically for a game plan for a kid they've only played in mop-up duty over the course of the season.
Gilbert performs valiantly, pulling Texas to within three points of Alabama late in the fourth quarter, but it isn't enough.
Despite his heroics, his inexperience costs Texas one too many times against the best defense in college football.
Can the kid be blamed?
Honestly, could anyone have expected a true freshman to walk in to the National Championship against Alabama and direct the Texas offense seamlessly?
The funny thing is, in the second half he almost did.
Alas, regrets ran rampant following the game. What if McCoy hadn't gotten hurt? What if McCoy was able to come back in?
I have a question—what if Garrett Gilbert had been given more meaningful snaps during the course of the season?
When you rely on a kid as much as Texas relied on Colt McCoy, you have to have a guy waiting behind him in case of emergency—and not just any guy, either. You need a quarterback, regardless of age, who can come in and at least keep some continuity in the offense.
Gilbert has all the talent in the world, and it was put on display in the later stages of the championship game and all throughout spring workouts, but the fact of the matter is he just wasn't ready.
Now the argument can be made that Texas played some close games and would have jeopardized the outcomes by putting Gilbert in. This is completely understandable.
What I don't quite get is why Gilbert doesn't get a whole fourth quarter's worth of action when Texas is beating UTEP 64-7. Sure he got to hand the ball off a few times, but the kid was never allowed to use his arm out of fear of seeming unsportsmanlike in throwing the ball around late in the game.
Mack, you're a great man and a great human being, but it's not about the other team's feelings. When you're trying to develop younger guys, it's ok to let them take the training wheels off for a little while. After all, how different is 71-7 from 64-7?
Ok, enough talk about the past.
Let's talk about 2010.
Gilbert is now the main man on campus and will be counted on to get Texas back to the promise land, but with help from his supporting cast of course.
Now God forbid Gilbert takes a nasty spill against Oklahoma and has to come out of the game, I'd feel much better knowing who his replacement is and what he can do rather than having a Pasadena redo.
Let's take a look at the candidates:
Sherrod Harris, SR.
Harris has been the ultimate team player for the Longhorns over the last four years, turning down an academic scholarship from Stanford to play at Texas.
However, Harris hasn't seen much playing time, as he has been buried on the depth chart behind Colt McCoy and now Garrett Gilbert.
He's a good athlete, but has left much to be desired in terms of his ability as a passer. Greg Davis would, however, be able to re-institute a zone-read offense to utilize Harris' mobility, an aspect the Texas offense hasn't used consistently since the VY days.
Harris was inconsistent during spring work outs, but coaches are hoping that he will continue to improve as the season approaches.
As of now, Sherrod Harris is the guy if Gilbert goes down (knock on wood).
Connor Wood, Fr.
Wood, out of Houston's Second Baptist, is a big kid with a very live arm. Like Gilbert, Wood can see over defenses and really read the field well. In addition, he has the arm strength to put the ball wherever he wants it.
The one big red flag about Wood is his experience against big time competition. While the talent level in the collegiate ranks is obviously much greater than high school, Second Baptist doesn't exactly play the cream of the high school crop in TAPPS.
Still, we may see Wood wrestle the back up job away from Harris by mid-season if he develops the way his coaches think he can.
Case McCoy, Fr.
While Mack Brown insists he would have recruited Case regardless of his relationship to Colt, you have to believe the McCoy name was appealing.
Coaches believe he is further along at this point than Colt was at his age. The younger McCoy is very accurate and a surprisingly good athlete as well.
Th one knock on McCoy at this point is his arm strength. Like his brother, he is more of a timing passer than a dart thrower, but that's nothing that time in the Texas weight room couldn't help improve.
McCoy is side by side with Wood in terms of the third string spot on the roster at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if he redshirts in order to get stronger in the weight room and become more comfortable with the offense.
Whoever is tagged as Gilbert's heir-apparent would do well to get on the field for some meaningful snaps this fall, and there will be opportunities during some of the expected non-conference massacres.
As we've seen, it only takes one hit to change everything.