Gilbert needs to be Texas’ quarterback

Trey Scott

It’s so easy to (incorrectly) label Garrett Gilbert as the starting quarterback. Much too easy. There’s a quarterback battle between four players starting Friday when the Longhorns begin the first day of fall camps, but the way I see it, this case is closed.

The only people who seemingly haven’t determined Gilbert as the starter is the coaching staff. He’s on the cover of every regional college football magazine out there from Athlon to Sporting News and is the designated starter in the college football video game NCAA 12. Any conversation or story regarding the foursome starts with his name.

Why? Well, obviously it’s because he was the starting quarterback last year. But more importantly, the public has figured something out that they hope Mack Brown already knows: Without Gilbert, the Longhorns are in trouble.

Whoa now, big stock to put into a guy who had a 10:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, I know. Yes, it is a strange thing to say about a quarterback who “directed” Texas to its worst season since 1997. Actually, it sometimes looked as if the team stood no chance last year as long as Gilbert remained at the helm. But if you can, think back to his high school days at Lake Travis. He won two straight state championships and rewrote an almanac of records along the way. He was the Gatorade and Parade National Player of the Year. There’s a reason he was offered by Texas, a reason he was considered the second-best quarterback in his class behind Matt Barkley. You have to believe Gilbert hasn’t forgotten how to play the position. The players trust him now. Fozzy Whittaker said at Big 12 Media Days that Gilbert had improved by leaps and bounds in the vocal leadership department and that he was helping guide the players through the summer’s 7-on-7 drills.

Whittaker didn’t publicly say who would win the starting job — can’t imagine that’d go over well PR-wise — but a couple of players on the offensive side of the ball have told me, with conviction, that Gilbert is their quarterback.

As we head into the fall, Texas looks as if a team that surprisingly has a large share of its pieces in place. The defense should be a nasty one, the receivers are supremely talented and the Longhorns will have their deepest stable of running backs in some time. There’s too much at stake to go with a quarterback with zero experience, which is what Texas would do if it turned to anybody not named Gilbert. Arguments will be made for Case McCoy, mainly because of the bloodlines, but there is probably a reason the Texas coaching staff never turned to him after Gilbert had thrown his fifth interception against Kansas State last year. Connor Wood was a big time recruit, but not much has been heard about him this summer, save for a few transfer rumors. David Ash continues to get rave reviews, but don’t bet on Mack entrusting the job of saving this proud program to a true freshman.

It’s going to have to be Gilbert, and there’s reason to believe that the second half of his career as a starter will be better than the first. This is a guy who, after throwing two interceptions in the 2009 BCS Title Game, one of which went for an Alabama touchdown — it seems weird to say that somebody “threw” a shovel pass — rebounded with a two-touchdown second half. He stared down the best defense in the nation and didn’t look as scared as he should have been.

With a full year of experience under his belt, Gilbert should be ready for whatever challenges are thrown at him this year. Or at least, he’ll be more ready than the other three quarterbacks.

This quarterback competition is one of two things: legitimate or staged. If it’s a real one, Gilbert will come out of fall camp as the top guy anyway, given his experience and newfound command over the huddle. And if it’s just for show and he is in fact Texas’ secret starter, then the coaching staff knows something the rest of us — the media, the magazines, the videogame corporations — have already figured out:

Garrett Gilbert is the guy. He has to be.

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Despite his sophomore slump, Horns needs Gilbert to start