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Can Sam Ehlinger Reach Colt McCoy or Vince Young Territory in 2020?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Texas

When you talk about the toughest position in all of sports, none rank ahead of playing quarterback. A good quarterback can read defenses, make good decisions, and deliver the football accurately. Not to mention, they have little time to do those three things without someone trying to put them on their back. But when you talk about playing quarterback in the state of Texas, many kids grow up dreaming that one day they will be wearing the burnt orange playing inside Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. 

And whether people love you or hate you, playing in the burnt orange, one thing is for certain: For any Texas QB, expectations are always at an all-time high. Some have met those daunting expectations such as the greats like Bobby Layne, James Street, Colt McCoy, and Vince Young while others have fallen short. 

Perhaps no era of Texas quarterback play was greater than it was in the mid to late 2000’s. In 2004, Vince Young led Texas to an 11-1 season including a Rose Bowl win over Michigan. Then in the very next year in 2005, Young threw for over 3,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 as he led the Longhorns to the championship game. There at the Rose Bowl against two-time defending national champion USC, Young put on arguably the best championship performance this sport has ever seen to help Texas win it all.

 Immediately following the 2005 season, it was quarterback Colt McCoy’s time to shine. And when his career was done after the 2009 season, Texas had a Fiesta Bowl win (2008 season) and won a Big 12 Championship in 2009 before falling short, largely in part to Colt’s injury, in the National Championship against Alabama. When Colt finished his college career, he had thrown for over 13,000 yards and tossed 112 touchdowns, while completing an eye popping 70.3% of his passes. Also, he had a starting record of 45-8 which was the best record by a college quarterback ever, before Kellen Moore broke it at Boise State after the 2011 season. 

From 2004 through 2009, Texas had just two starting quarterbacks. Since 2009, Texas has had seven starting quarterbacks and just about all of them have not met expectations. Garret Gilbert was a disaster (2010) before David Ash and Case McCoy (Colt’s younger brother) split time from 2011 to 2013. Not to mention the failed experiments with Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard (2014 and 2015). Then in 2016 Texas went with freshman Shane Buechele, but the result was a 5-7 season to end the Charlie Strong era (2014-2016). It was a long and bumpy road that resulted in two coaches getting fired (Mack Brown and Charlie Strong) and from 2010 to 2016, Texas piled up an abysmal record of 46-42 and missed out on a bowl game three times during that stretch. Also, Texas only finished higher than fifth in the Big 12 twice in those seven years. 

 

On November 27th, 2016 changes arrived. Tom Herman was hired to be the new man in Austin after impressive stops at Ohio State (offensive coordinator) and Houston (head coach), Herman was the talk of college football and Texas was able to get him. But with Herman, came in Sam Ehlinger. He was a four-star quarterback by just about every recruiting service and came out of Westlake High School which has produced NFL quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Of course, neither one of those guys went to Texas even though the two campuses are less than ten miles apart. But this was different. Sam was a Texas Longhorn through and through and almost every time you see a younger photo of Sam, they will show you the one where he was throwing up the double horns as a child. Ehlinger bled burnt orange. 

In his freshman season in 2017, Ehlinger split time with Shane Buechele before winning the job, but he also had to fight off some injuries that season. And while he did not pad up the stat sheet, he led Texas to their first bowl win (2017 Texas Bowl) since 2012. But 2017 did not compare to the sophomore season that Sam put up. In 2018, Ehlinger led Texas to a Big 12 title game where they fell short to Oklahoma in their rematch and ultimately ended up in the Sugar Bowl where they beat down Georgia. During that year, Sam threw for over 3,000 yards and tossed 25 touchdowns on just 5 interceptions. But perhaps even better than that were his 16 rushing touchdowns which are still the most in a single season by a quarterback at Texas. 

Now remember when I brought up Colt McCoy as an elite quarterback? Look at these sophomore comparisons. 

PlayerYdsPass TDINTComp %Rush YdsRush TD
Sam Ehlinger 20183,29225564.7%48216
Colt McCoy2007 3,303221865.1%4924

It is no question that Sam was better here, and he helped Texas to win ten games in a season for the first time since 2009. But Sam’s work was not done there because 2019 was supposed to be a big year for Texas. Instead, the Longhorns went 7-5 during the regular season but ended the season on a high note with a blowout 38-10 win over a top-15 Utah team. At times, his play was a little inconsistent but with injuries eating up the offense and defense, Texas struggled as a team. But it would be hard for me to sit here and call out Sam or blame it entirely on him but since he is the quarterback, all fingers pointed at Sam. From local media to national media, people wondered, what happened to Ehlinger? Or why is he having a bad year? 

If you take a closer look, did he have a bad 2019? I think you can make a strong case that he certainly did not. Look at Colt McCoy’s junior season in 2008 and compare it. 

PlayerYdsPass TDINTComp %Rush YdsRush TD
Colt McCoy3,859134876.7%56111
Sam Ehlinger3,663321065.2%6637

Outside of completion percentage, was Colt McCoy’s amazing junior season blow Sam’s out of the water? Absolutely not. Now were the wins different? No doubt as McCoy led Texas to an 12-1 season and Sam’s 2019 team went 8-5. However, the talent on the 2008 team to me does not compare much to 2019. Maybe the recruiting rankings will not show that but from a talent level, the 2008 team would have blown the 2019 team out of the water. Maybe some of that is Tom’s fault in year three and the result ended up getting a lot of assistant coaches shown the door, but it is hard for me to sit here and blame Ehlinger for this last year. Yet, plenty of people thought Sam had a bad year. 

 

By the way, Colt McCoy’s 34 passing touchdowns are a Texas school record in a single season. You know who is number two on that list? Sam Ehlinger. You know who is second on the Texas all time passing yards list and career passing touchdowns? Sam Ehlinger. And while Sam will not likely catch Colt McCoy in either one of those categories, some think the two are not comparable. However, while Colt led Texas to a Big 12 title in 2009, Sam got them there in 2018. Colt never won a title and has one NY6 bowl win. Meanwhile Sam has one NY6 bowl win and no conference title. But if Sam can get them over the hump this year and win a conference championship, I think it is time to give Sam his due and a spot in the Texas all time quarterback list. 

Of course, Vince Young still is the only one to bring Texas a national championship over the last forty years and remains at the top, but let’s not act like Sam cannot be that guy for Texas. This could be a season to remember in Austin. Oklahoma is always good, but they will be breaking in some new key pieces. Oklahoma State has just about everyone coming back but outside of Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, I do not see another serious contender for the Big 12 title this season. Although some will argue that Iowa State and TCU belong in that conversation, I will have to see it first before believing it. On paper, Texas appears to be set to make a run at a Big 12 title but that has always been the case on paper over the last decade. On paper. It is time to crush the paper and start crushing it on the field. 

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