Even those college football programs known for reloading rather than rebuilding suffer their share of misfires. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Texas last season, where the Longhorns went 5-7 a year after playing for the national title. This season Mack Brown and the 'Horns will attempt to convince the nation that 2010 was a colossal anomaly by fielding a quarterback with national title game experience who somehow still plays with a neon question mark suspended over his helmet.
Also braving uncharted waters under center are two little-known programs you might have heard something about: The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Below, the names to watch and the trouble signs to fear for the season ahead, from know-it-all sources and in-the-know fans.
The party line: Garrett Gilbert was named the starter Monday morning, and if you didn't know he was yanked into service in place of the injured Colt McCoy in the Longhorns' title game loss to Alabama, you'd think he was a complete greenhorn given everything he had to go through to hang onto his own starting gig (and the rampant apathy he's facing from his own fanbase after two years on its radar). The 'Horns ranked 50th nationally in aerial offense in 2010 with Gilbert as the starter, and with lethargy plaguing the entire unit Brown opened competition at every slot. With another McCoy (Case, Colt's brother) on his heels on the depth chart and a mega-hyped freshman (David Ash, more on him in a second) being groomed for stardom, Gilbert will have to play hard and keep playing hard: Four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 lurk in the meat of Texas' schedule, including back-to-back dates with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in October.
The word on the (internet) street: "Gilbert has played well enough the past two weeks that he's going to get his chance. Gilbert will start, but his leash won't be very long. If he struggles through three games, he'll lose the job. Freshman David Ash will play, and we might even have a package of plays that we bring him in to run." -- Peter Bean, Burnt Orange Nation.
The party line: The era of steady-handed, floppy-haired leadership from noted bros John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy is on hold, for the moment, as the Crimson Tide coaching staff casts about for the next big thing at Bryant-Denny. The talk radio types who clamored for Trent Richardson to get more reps while Mark Ingram was still around parroted many of the same talking points when it came to AJ McCarron and McElroy, and they're getting their wish on both counts this year: Richardson, who was a top 100 rusher last season in a limited role, is the unquestioned No. 1 back, and sophomore McCarron ... is listed as a co-starter atop the Tide's just-released depth chart, alongside freshman Phillip Sims. Talk radio hosts gotta eat!
The word on the (internet) street: "I think most everyone is prepared for a two-QB system for at least the first couple of weeks. Against Kent State it shouldn't matter, but whoever starts against Penn State probably has the inside track for the rest of the season. Both QBs were basically the same, stats-wise, through the spring, but since [Nick] Saban has refused to release any QB stats over the fall most everyone is suspecting that one of them is doing significantly better than the other and he doesn't want a big firestorm of "well obvs X is better than Y" in the media. Personally, I think Sims looks better than McCarron; he has all the same fundamental tools (good arm, accurate, blah blah) but he outplayed McCarron in the spring game and looked more poised doing it." -- Todd Jones, Roll Bama Roll.
The party line: The chore of replacing Terrelle Pryor for a five-game suspension has morphed into the hunt for a permanent replacement after Pryor's midsummer departure to the NFL. In the Buckeyes' pantry, we find: senior Joe Bauserman, the second coming of Todd Boeckman by every possible metric, and true freshman Braxton Miller, a dual-threat kid who's drawing comparisons to Troy Smith. The team has yet to tab one as the be-all, end-all starter. The word on the (internet) street: "Fickell has been setting expectations for a two-QB system. Think the 2009 Fiesta Bowl but for 4-6 games, whenever it collapses on itself like a dying star. The fans all want Braxton Miller to come in to save the day, but I think from the Boeckman/Pryor experience, we expect Bauserman to get the nod from the get go out of respect for his seniority, him to fail, and Miller to eventually come in to try and play hero." -- Luke Zimmermann, Eleven Warriors.