Note: This story is part of the 2010-11 KU football preview section that will appear in Saturday's Journal-World. Check back to KUsports.com throughout the week for a breakdown of each Big 12 team, including an in-depth look at KU's offense, defense and non-conference schedule.
In his first full season of playing quarterback, University of Texas sophomore Garrett Gilbert probably will be held to lofty standards.
The reason? Playing quarterback for a school like Texas automatically comes with an owner’s manual of championship expectations. But in Gilbert’s case, it’s a little more than that.
For the past four years, the Longhorns have had the luxury of Colt McCoy, the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history, directing the offense.
McCoy didn’t have many deficiencies. He was accurate. So accurate, in fact, that he set the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (76.7 percent) in 2008. He could also run. In his four-year tenure, McCoy rushed for 1,589 yards to go along with 20 touchdowns. And, of course, he was a Big 12 champion. As a senior last season, McCoy led the Longhorns to an unblemished 8-0 mark in Big 12 play (13-1 overall). UT then escaped with a 13-12 victory over Nebraska in the conference championship game.
There’s one goal McCoy did not reach, however: winning a BCS Championship.
It almost happened. Texas played for all the marbles last season, but McCoy injured his passing shoulder in the first quarter against Alabama, and the Longhorns couldn’t hold the lead with their franchise player on the sideline.
That’s where Gilbert factors into the equation for UT.
Thrust into emergency action as a freshman, Gilbert replaced McCoy and threw for 186 yards and two scores in the eventual 37-21 Alabama triumph. Texas might have lost, but having Gilbert soak up such big-game experience as a freshman should only help this season.
If Gilbert could catch on so quickly against a stingy SEC defense like Alabama’s, what will he be capable of with a full offseason to improve and mature?
“Last year, there were times I would say, ‘Garrett, you’re not very vocal. You’re not leading as well as I expected,’” Texas coach Mack Brown said at Big 12 media days in Irving, Texas. “He said, ‘This is Colt’s team. I’ll lead as soon as Colt graduates.’ I do think his presence in the national championship game gave him instant credibility with the older kids. And unlike Colt, who hadn’t taken a snap when he stepped in that huddle, Garrett has.”
Gilbert is entering a pressure-packed situation, though: He must replace a Longhorn legend; continue UT’s stretch of nine consecutive 10-win seasons; continue UT’s streak of two straight victories over archrival Oklahoma; win the Big 12 South. Heck, he’s expected to win it all.
Such is the norm at Texas, a school famous in the 2005 season for winning one of the most exciting BCS title games ever. The electrifying Vince Young led UT to a 41-38 victory over USC in what was the Big 12’s most recent BCS Championship.
Gilbert is following in the footsteps of probably the two most decorated UT quarterbacks of all-time.
Thankfully for Gilbert, he’ll have some help.
Texas returns running backs Tre Newton (552 yards, six touchdowns in 2009) and Cody Johnson (335 yards, 12 scores), along with receivers Malcolm Williams (39 catches, 550 yards, two scores) and James Kirkendoll (48 catches, 461 yards, six scores). There’s plenty of talent left in Austin.
The biggest help to Gilbert , however, may be the Longhorns’ defense, expected to be one of the best in the country. The secondary is outstanding and will feature three preseason All-Big 12 selections in Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown at cornerback and Blake Gideon at safety.
Gilbert will have early opportunities in UT’s quest to defend its Big 12 crown. Texas has its biggest game of the season, against Oklahoma, on Oct. 2.
The Longhorns face Texas Tech early in the season (Week 3) for the second consecutive year and travel to Nebraska in Week 6.
If UT can escape Lincoln with a perfect record intact, the Longhorns would have a chance at running the conference table again.
Here’s how the last six weeks look: home for Iowa State and Baylor, on the road at Kansas State, then close at home against Oklahoma State, Florida Atlantic and Texas A&M.