AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Charlie Strong had barely settled into his seat Friday when the first – and biggest – question of preseason training camp came within seconds: Do you have a starting quarterback?
No, Strong said with a laugh. Not yet. But he did promise to announce one “early.”
“Starting quarterback. Why is that always the question?” Strong said.
Because no bigger personnel question hangs over Strong and the Longhorns as the 2016 season approaches. And no answer will likely have a bigger impact on his future at the program after two losing seasons.
Texas opens the season at home Sept. 4 against Notre Dame.
Whether Strong opts for freshman Shane Buechele, senior Tyrone Swoopes or sophomore Jerrod Heard, he simply has to get this one right.
Buechele appears to be the clubhouse leader after a strong performance in spring drills. But Swoopes and Heard, both former starters, will get their chance under new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
If it’s Buechele, it would be the biggest home start for a Texas freshman quarterback since Colt McCoy led the No. 2 Longhorns against No. 1 Ohio State in 2006. McCoy already had a win over North Texas a week earlier, but his national debut was a disaster of a 24-7 loss.
Strong and Gilbert call Buechele a natural leader, a strong competitor and gifted athlete. But they are reluctant to anoint him too soon.
“Each one of them, they’re different and they all bring something different to the game,” Strong said.
There are other worry spots, like a defense that struggled all last season and is woefully short on experience up front. Texas welcomed five freshmen defensive linemen who all pack over 300 pounds. Strong will be counting on them for depth.
“And they’re not sloppy. It’s weight put on the right way,” Strong said.
Strong is 11-14 in heading into his third season. Texas hasn’t had three consecutive losing seasons since 1954-56.
“The whole attitude of the team is totally different. The whole team has a sense of urgency. You have a group of guys who are willing to work with one another. It’s a totally different feel than it has been the last two years,” Strong said.
That will be tested immediately by Notre Dame in a special Sunday night game that could turn up the heat on Strong if the Longhorns lose.
“(Notre Dame) is a crucial game. We have the spotlight. We’re at home,” Strong said.