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Texas Football: How the Longhorns Got Out of Quarterback Purgatory

Texas turned to its own back yard to fix a decade-long quarterback slump

The Texas Longhorns enter the 2020 season with the active career leader in passing. They also have a capable backup in Casey Thompson, an intriguing prospect in Roschon Johnson and the top two quarterbacks in the state for the 2020 class according to 247 Sports. 

It's a new position to be flush with quarterback talent for Texas fans, but it wasn't all that long ago that the Longhorns found themselves in quarterback purgatory. How did this happen? And how did Texas pull itself out of it?

The dark times

After producing back-to-back Heisman finalist starting quarterbacks in Vince Young and Colt McCoy, it seemed the Longhorns had cornered the quarterback market heading into the 2010s. 

A program with Texas' track record for success and the most fertile quarterback recruiting base in America made it seem almost impossible for the Longhorns to miss on a signal caller. 

Yet miss, they did. Some thanks to bad scouting, some bad timing and some bad communication. From 2010-2019 four Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks played their high school ball in the state of Texas, yet none ever took a snap on the Forty Acres. Another (Jameis Winston) once said "he would have been at Texas had they offered" a fact that has been disputed by a few parties over the years. 

Meanwhile between 2010-16 Texas stumbled from one starting quarterback to the next. The list includes some talented guys who went on to succeed elsewhere (Shane Buechele and Garrett Gilbert), some guys who had bad luck with injuries (David Ash),  and a couple of players who ended up starting at other positions (Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes). 

The light at the end of the tunnel 

Then, along came Sam Ehlinger. The Westlake High School standout was a die-hard Longhorn fan, big, strong and (most importantly) he was smart. 

While one could argue with merit against many of the decisions Tom Herman has made since taking over as the Longhorn head coach, his work with Ehlinger and recruiting behind him have been stellar. 

First, Texas decided to give Ehlinger room to grow. After swapping time between Ehlinger and the more experienced Buechele, Texas eventually decided to bank on the future. 

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The result has been back-to-back seasons of solid quarterback play and the advantage of the most experienced signal-caller in the country going into this season. 

Stacking talent 

It didn't stop there, however. While Herman and his staff were developing Ehlinger into one of college football's best, they were stacking up talent behind him as well. The same coach who used three different quarterbacks to win a national title at Ohio State understood the need for quantity, especially in today's attrition-filled world of college football. 

Herman's first recruiting class at Texas included Casey Thompson from across the Red River in Oklahoma and California's Cameron Rising. The next year he brought in dual-threat quarterback Roschon Johnson. That was followed this season by the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks in the state in Ja'Quinden Jackson and Hudson Card. 

Some coaches might blink at the idea of bringing in five quarterbacks in three seasons, but not only does it hedge against transfers (Rising has already departed for Utah), Herman's choice of highly athletic prospects means some of these guys could very well end up playing elsewhere. 

We all saw what Johnson did at running back last year when he was called upon. Card was a stellar wide receiver at Lake Travis before he ever took a snap under center and some scouts believe Jackson may actually project as an NFL-caliber player on defense. 

It's not like Herman traded out athleticism for passing ability, either. Every one of these five quarterbacks projected as at least a top 15 prospect at their position, most were top 10. 

Herman was also able to get Thompson and Johnson to commit knowing that barring an injury, they likely wouldn't even have a chance to see the field until at least 2021.

How will it all play out?

Yes, on paper Texas now seems to be in as good of shape as they have been at quarterback in over a decade, but we all know just how hard it is to quantify real potential at the game's most volatile position. For all the talent the Longhorns have, only one player is battle-tested with significant snaps at the college level and the next guy up is always just a play away. 

Still, with four highly-touted players now at Herman and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's disposal, you have to like your odds that one will work out if you are a Texas fan.