College Football QB Battles: Texas

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Can Garrett Gilbert hold onto his starting job for the Longhorns?

<p> Can Garrett Gilbert hold onto his starting job for the Longhorns?</p>

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

How many college football teams have fallen from an undefeated regular season and BCS national championship berth to 5-7 with inexplicable losses to UCLA, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor in one year?

Let’s simplify the question: How many teams that played in the BCS national championship game failed to win at least seven games the following year?

The answer is still only one: The 2010 Texas Longhorns. In fact, the only other team that failed to reach at least eight wins following a BCS title game berth was the 2002 7-7 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

So what is to be blamed for the Longhorns' complete self-destruction a year ago? The offensive line couldn’t block, the receivers weren’t open (or were dropping passes when they were), the running backs weren’t getting the tough yards, the coaches didn’t do their jobs, and finally, Garrett Gilbert failed to live up to the hype.

For the first time since the pre-Vince Young days, Mack Brown has a dark veil of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Meet the candidates

#7: Garrett Gilbert, 6-4, 218, JR
2010: 2,744 yards, 10 TD, 17 INT, 380 rush yards, 5 TD

#5: Connor Wood, 6-4, 220, FR

#6: Case McCoy, 6-2, 200, SO

David Ash, 6-3, 215, FR

Gilbert was a victim of circumstance. He played well in the second half of the BCS title game against Alabama, but it was clear that the Tide came out of the locker room assuming the game was over. As soon as Texas got close, Bama flipped a switch, created four quick turnovers and cemented its legacy as a champion.

But the hype from that second half lived on throughout the offseason. And it probably wasn’t fair to Gilbert considering that he was following the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Yes, he threw a downright ugly 17 interceptions against only 10 touchdowns. But he got no help from the line, receivers, backs and most importantly the coaches.

His 2,744 yards were actually better than Colt McCoy’s 2,570 yards in his first season as the starter. His 380 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns bested McCoy’s 180 yards and two scores. The big difference was McCoy’s 29:7 TD:INT ratio – something that Brown is emphasizing in fall camp.

“You’ve gotta have great leadership at that position; you’ve gotta protect the ball, and you’ve gotta put the ball in the endzone,” said Brown.

The Texas head coach has made it very clear since the onset of summer that his starting QB job is up for grabs. And it is clear what he is looking for from his signal caller. Lead, don't turn the ball over and score points.

Easier said than done.

Is there talent behind Gilbert on the depth chart? Absolutely. But Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash have a combined one collegiate pass attempt among them. McCoy was impressive in the spring and has the family moxie Burnt Orange fans are used to seeing from the McCoy name. But he might be the least physically gifted player on the roster at his position. Wood has the talent and has been in the program for a year, while Ash has yet to experience anything that resembles a collegiate atmosphere.

All signs point to Gilbert earning the job once again this season, and there are several reasons to be optimistic about his potential this fall. First, Brown made big switches to the coaching staff, bringing in Boise State’s Bryan Harsin to spruce up the passing attack. Second, the nation’s No. 1 running back, Malcolm Brown, arrives on campus as the savior of the ground game. Third, the offensive line has to be better than it was a year ago. It might not be possible for that much talent to struggle that badly again. Finally, the wide receiver corps is deep and extremely athletic. Mike Davis and Darius White are poised for breakout seasons, and newcomer Jaxon Shipley will be dynamic in the slot. Not to mention veteran Marquise Goodwin.

The coaches are charting every pass in practice and are putting every player in critical competitive situations in order to simulate game action. Brown has said he should make the call in relatively short order, so fans can expect an announcement at any time.

The quarterback position, even when a starter has been announced, still casts a shadow of doubt over the offense. But the last time there was an open quarterback competition on the Forty Acres, a guy named McCoy grabbed Bevo by the horns and never looked back.

Maybe an open competition is just what Senator Brown needed.

Athlon Sports Prediction: Garrett Gilbert

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