One of the top comparisons for Texas Longhorns sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele? Current Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers.
In fact, the recent analysis by 247Sports isn’t the first time that Buechele and Rodgers have been mentioned as analogues — Buechele told CampusSports.net in 2015 that he models his game after Rodgers.
By using Euclidean distance to compare all seasons by quarterbacks since 2000, the debut season for Rodgers at Cal came up No. 14 on the list of most similar campaigns to Buechele’s impressive freshman season for Texas.
And there will likely be further improvement this season for Buechele:
That analysis yields the following projected stats for Buechele’s sophomore season: 248.7/391.0 (63.6%), 3,196.9 pass yards, 22.8 pass TD, 9.8 INT, 144.9 rush yards (1.5 yards per carry) and 4.7 rushing touchdowns. That’s good for 3,341.8 total yards and 27.5 total touchdowns.
Those numbers represent modest improvements across the board, with completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and rushing touchdowns all improving, with interceptions and rushing yards dropping slightly.
However, there is further reason to believe that Buechele will improve more than the context-less analysis projects — experience on the offensive line, returning production and a high level of talent at wide receiver, and the improvements that the sophomore showed in April’s Orange-White game.
Kent Perkins is the only loss along the offensive line, which now has a greater level of experience and a more dialed-in Patrick Vahe, if the spring reports prove credible. In fact, six returning offensive line have multiple starts for Texas, including emerging players like sophomore Zach Shackelford and junior Jake McMillon.
With any luck, young players like Denzel Okafor and Patrick Hudson will increase the depth for position coach Derek Warehime.
At wide receiver, sophomore Collin Johnson doesn’t just have a strong rapport with his best friend, he looks like he’s ready for a breakout season after scoring two touchdowns and racking up 117 receiving yards.
Behind the big outside threat, six other players with 250 or more receiving yards return, including speedster Devin Duvernay.
Another positive? Head coach Tom Herman hadn’t ever had more than 50 percent of one unit grade out at a champion level so quickly.
Futhermore, senior Armanti Foreman is in a contract year after leading the team in receiving yardage in 2016, junior Jerrod Heard has more experience after spending last fall transitioning from quarterback, and redshirt freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps unexpectedly flashed during the spring with his dependable hands and route-running ability.
And, with Damion Miller and Jordan Pouncey joining the group this summer, there will be even more depth.
Most importantly, however, will be Buechele’s ability to foster his own individual improvement. Aside from his renowned work ethic and overall dedication to the game, his substantive public progress during the Orange-White game is a significant development in that regard.
After a second year going through winter conditioning in Austin, Buechele displayed increased arm strength in April, which should allow him to hit even smaller windows in 2017 than he did last season. In addition, he could exploit the deep middle of the field this fall in a way that he did not under former offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
Based on Buechele’s pocket presence in the spring game, which appeared much improved, he has a chance to significantly improve his rushing yardage this season. By showing more awareness in the pocket, the Arlington Lamar product has a chance to reduce unnecessary sacks, while his better feel for when and how to scramble should let him pick up off-schedule yardage he rarely gained in 2016.
However, the key factor in all of this is health — after a rib injury against Cal and an undisclosed thumb injury later in the year, Buechele’s season fell apart down the stretch as his production deteriorated and his mistakes multiplied.
Better offensive line play would help Buechele take fewer hits. A stronger body should let him survive the hits that he does take with reduced consequences. And simple luck could even play a role in helping keep the prospective starter from numbering among the walking wounded in the season’s second half.
All told, there are plenty of reasons for optimism as Buechele tries to take that comparison to Rodgers to the next level.