It's become a bit of a broken record over the years: The Texas Longhorns may have found their starting quarterback.
Each utterance was followed soon thereafter by underperformance and uncertainty, yet again. Even injury. But there's something significantly different about such claims entering Charlie Strong's critical third season on the Forty Acres. The latest perceived answer at quarterback for the Texas Longhorns isn't the lumbering dual-threat former All-American Tyrone Swoopes, tasked with replacing David Ash, nor the electrifying dual-threat former All-American Jerrod Heard, who raised the same question following last season's 527-yard effort in a near-comeback against California.
No, the hype now surrounds Shane Buechele, an undersized early enrollee with an ideal mental makeup and a skill set that's already seemed to surpass his predecessors.
More impressively, Buechele shows signs of being the thoroughbred in a three-horse race for the starting job several weeks before the majority of his fellow 2016 signees graduate high school -- Swoopes saw some reserve minutes and threw 13 passes as a true freshman; Heard redshirted.
It's difficult to argue against Buechele playing beyond his years thus far, but with so much of Texas football's future at stake in 2016, is starting Buechele right out of the gates worth the potential risks?
On a broader scale, what happens on the field for Texas in the upcoming season is accompanied with significant looming implications. Strong's job may very well be on the line over the next eight months and Strong's future in Austin and Texas' success following a second-consecutive elite recruiting class will resonate boldly to future potential recruits -- many of whom have already noted they're waiting to see how the Longhorns' recruiting success translates to the field.
The aforementioned and yet-to-be-seen scenario falls largely on the shoulders of Texas' quarterback play. It's the difference between essentially wasting another season behind the arm of a graduating Swoopes and relatively unproven Heard and finally finding an answer under center and some established basis for the future, whether it's Heard resurfacing following injuries or Buechele proving he's the answer for Texas.
Sterlin Gilbert on a timeline for picking a QB: As much as I love to go fast, we have to take our time and get this one right."— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) April 16, 2016
As seen above, Sterlin Gilbert understands the significance of assuring the quarterback named the starter is the best option for the upcoming season, considering the noted implications. If it's Swoopes, Texas could be risking a year of in-game experience for the two quarterbacks that should be on campus next season.
Much of the same applies to Buechele if Heard comes out on top, and this would likely mean Swoopes' time at Texas has reached its end outside of the 18-Wheeler package. If the hype proves truthful over the next several months and Buechele trots into DKR as the starting quarterback when Notre Dame comes to Austin, Heard may seek greener pastures as a transfer. This would leave Texas, which currently has three options at quarterback, with only one following the season until Sam Ehlinger arrives -- thus, another offseason of ‘who's Texas' QB going to be' discussions.
At this point, following all the mentions of Buechele's gym rat persona, tremendously high football IQ and the impressive showing during the Orange-White game, throwing for 299 yards, two touchdowns, displaying accuracy nearly forgotten in Austin, and the knack for simply making plays, the latter may be the final outcome.
But for all the promise and poise Buechele's shown during his first few months on campus, throwing the true freshman into the fire against a rebuilding, but still talented Notre Dame defense with the eyes of the nation watching, jitters, physical shortcomings and struggles could lead to more serious concerns. Once again, Texas' No. 1 option at quarterback would be falling victim to underperformance, and with Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma being four of the first five games, this is a very real possibility.
On the other hand, there's the just as likely possibility that Buechele's confidence, comfort and productivity orchestrating Texas' offense only grows from this point forward. In this scenario, in which Buechele proves to be the answer Strong and the Longhorns so desperately needed at quarterback, every bit of risk taken by inserting a true freshman into a daunting five-game stint would be well worth it.
And following what we saw in the spring game, this seems like the much more plausible option, not just for Buechele, but the entire offense. In addition to the offense moving noticeably quicker and moving the ball positively on what seemed like every play, Buechele led three of the game's four scoring drives -- claiming responsibility for a bomb to John Burt and a pinpoint touchdown connection with Armanti Forman.
A fast-paced, high-octane offense is exactly why Gilbert was hired, and largely due to having thrived in a similar offense at Arlington Lamer, Buechele has proven he can live up to those expectations thus far.
If Strong and Gilbert ultimately name Buechele the starting quarterback for the 2016 season, as Strong says he wants to do "way before" the Notre Dame game, would it be worth all the potential risks?
All things considered, the answer is a resounding yes.
Despite the physical limitations and youth, the fact that Buechele is now the favorite over Swoopes and Heard speaks volumes to how polished his game is with so much development and progression yet to come. And with so much perceived untapped potential, Buechele running the show from day one could prove invaluable down the road in Strong's pursuit of bringing Texas back to prominence. If it takes starting Buechele against Notre Dame to make that happen, it's a decision Strong with which feels comfortable.
As well he should.