UT head coach Charlie Strong watches his team warm up before the Baylor game at McLane Stadium in Waco on Saturday December 5, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: How Charlie Strong must handle the big QB mystery

Posted August 21st, 2016

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Sometime between now and the kickoff of Texas’ season opener against Notre Dame on Sept. 4, Charlie Strong will reveal his starting quarterback.

Strong could tell his players in private at practice or the mess hall.

Or he may inform freshman Shane Buechele and senior Tyrone Swoopes of his decision during one of the team’s marathon ping pong sessions.

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Or it may not come at all since  the understanding is that he will play both in the opener.

From all indications, he won’t do it in a formal press setting.

“The decision will be made and then the team will know,” Strong said at Saturday’s press conference, “but I’m not going to put it out there because I don’t want Notre Dame to know who we will be starting at quarterback.”

I lied and told Strong that “We won’t tell anybody. It’s between us. You can trust me, coach.”

The smart money is on him putting his starter trust in Buechele, based partly on his performance in the spring, partly on what these eyes witnessed in practice and partly on how much the head coach has been raving about the kid’s competitive fire.

Swoopes has experience and practices well enough to impress the coaching staff but loses something when those bright lights come on with the stands packed. He found his niche last season with the 18-wheeler short-yardage package and seemed to thrive with the burden of being the starting quarterback at the University of Texas lifted from his shoulders.

So why is Charlie so hesitant to reveal what many of us believe to be his third different starting quarterback in an opener in his third season?

It’s Gamesmanship 101, pure and simple.

What Strong can’t overlook is this fan base’s fragile psyche. Longhorn Nation has been beyond patient with its likable yet sub-.500 head coach. The 11-14 record  in Strong’s first two seasons speaks for itself but good, young talent and a couple of great recruiting classes gives Texas an  upside despite a tough schedule that includes five teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, most notably No. 3 Oklahoma and the No. 10 Irish.

Here’s the psychology of a battered football fan base: no Texas fan wants to see Tyrone Swoopes trot out there as the starter for the opener, not after last season’s 38-3 no-show in South Bend. They’re fine with him coming in for short-yardage situations but not starting Boo Jr. will suck the air out of that stadium before the first commercial break.

Despite his lack of experience, Buechele represents hope and Strong needs to use that hope to help galvanize his program, on the field and in the stands.

True freshman quarterbacks are 13-10 all-time at Texas and that would be an improvement based on what we’ve seen the last two seasons. Expect Chuck to start the freshman and get him settled in by running it right at Notre Dame with those Brahma bulls D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren behind that experienced offensive line.  Strong had better understand the importance of getting the crowd involved. Don’t allow doubt to become part of the first quarter narrative with Swoopes in there as the starter. It’s unnecessary.

Strong is well aware that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has decided not to announce the starter between senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer but his decision is different. The Notre Dame QBs have already proven themselves in a winning situation. Strong is still searching for the right answer under center.

Meanwhile Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder respects the talent in Texas’ backfield but isn’t biting his fingernails wondering which quarterback Strong will start. He’s obviously preparing for both and is working with the confidence of having held the Horns to only 163 yards last season.

With all that said, Strong reserves the right to name the starter in his own good time, if at all.

“Still not going to tell us, huh?” I asked him as he left Saturday.

A laugh was all I got in response.

Chuck knows. He’s just not telling.

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