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Eyes on Texas: If a Big 12 title is off the table for 2020, time to start looking ahead — even at QB

Thank the senior QB for his time and incredible, unwavering commitment and start looking at who’s next.

Here’s a random thought for those who like their current coaching job but aren’t quite sure about things long term. Go all in for 2021.

The only thing Urban about your university should be where it’s located. It’s still your team. Still your program. Still your dream job. For now.

If you can’t win a conference championship in 2020 — if all logical and mathematical pathways seem unrealistic — then move on. Make it clear that all jobs are now open. Tell every backup that he will play in the final two regular-season games plus the bowl game.

Is the quarterback a senior? Thank him for his time and incredible, unwavering commitment, and start looking at who’s next.

Tell your athletic director and the media that falling short of reaching the conference championship is absolutely unacceptable. Languishing in fourth place is ridiculous. You’re furious. Burnt hot dogs and soggy pancakes for everybody! Here’s a double-fingered salute to the Longhorn Network cameras for COVID-19, goal-line fumbles and 2020 in general.

You’re getting ready for next season. Right. Here. Right. Now, damn it. 

As it turns out, Texas coach Tom Herman finds himself in such a predicament. Orangefans are in full lather. The Longhorns (5-3, 4-3 Big 12) have two regular-season games left after basically being eliminated from Big 12 contention last Friday. 

So why not start backup quarterback Casey Thompson this weekend at Kansas State or maybe Hudson Card against winless Kansas on Dec. 12?

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, right, has played virtually the entire season; redshirt sophomore Casey Thompson, left, got some mop-up time in the opener. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

For some reason known only to him, Sam Ehlinger refuses to close the door on this being his final year at Texas, even though everyone in the football facilities believes it will be. “I'm trying to just enjoy every last minute of the relationships and the people that are around right now before looking forward,” he said this week.

His coach isn’t going to bench Ehlinger now. If Texas were a pro team, that’s exactly what would be happening, though.

“No, I think this is Sam’s team. He’s a three-year captain,” Herman said Monday. “And he deserves to play his final season all the way through. We’re going to give him every opportunity to do that.”

Asked about playing one of the backups, Herman demurred. “It’s Monday morning,” he said. Herman had not talked with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich about the full game plan yet.

On Wednesday, Yurcich told reporters: “I understand how there can be a lot of benefit toward that, but we have to win these ballgames. Sam’s our guy.”

Thompson, a sophomore from Newcastle, Okla., has played in only one game this season — mop-up duty in the season-opening blowout of UTEP. He was 4-for-7 for 55 yards. One was a 35-yard scoring pass to Brennan Eagles, and another was a 17-yard touchdown throw to Marcus Washington.

Card, a freshman from Lake Travis, has been in for only a handful of plays and frankly wasn’t expecting to see much action. This was pegged as a possible redshirt season all along. With the NCAA freezing everyone’s eligibility, Card can play more and keep his freshman status for 2021. Thompson can remain a sophomore, too.

Ja’Quinden Jackson, a freshman from Duncanville, had one primary mission this season: get healthy. He suffered a torn ACL late in Duncanville’s 2019 playoff run. It made sense for the athletic speedster to use UT’s medical and training staff to get back to full health for his long-term career prospects.

When the battle to be the next quarterback starts in full, Ehlinger said, “I wish when that does happen, I could be around for that competition. Three really, really good, talented quarterbacks.

“Obviously, Casey has the experience piece from being around here for a really long time,” Ehlinger said. “I’m very thankful for Casey and everything that he’s done for me on a weekly basis, just helping me prepare, during games coming up to me and telling me what he’s seeing and helping me out. He’s been incredible the last few years. And he’s a really talented player.

“JJ, he’s an incredible athlete,” Ehlinger continued. “I think everybody knows that from what he’s done in high school. I feel like every week he continues to get better in the system and learn more.

Finally, Ehlinger joked, “And Hudson’s the golden boy. Throws a beautiful ball. We always make fun of him; it’s like he came out of the womb throwing spirals and doing QB drills perfectly. So he’s been awesome. I’m really excited for all three of them. It’s going to be a fun competition, and I look forward to following it.”

There are plenty of other questions about the 2021 team. Left tackle Samuel Cosmi has opted out for NFL draft prep, leaving a rather huge hole. Center Derek Kerstetter could miss the Kansas State game with an ankle injury. He and guard Denzel Okafor are both seniors, and they’re leaving, too. That’s three starting offensive linemen gone.

Defensively, junior safety Caden Sterns has opted out, but senior safety Chris Brown’s departure will hurt more. Brown’s been all over the place this season, flexing when appropriate. What if defensive end Joseph Ossai decides he wants to go pro, too? Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown has to at least be thinking about it, right? 

A lot of these personnel problems are best suited for the offseason. It’s why you have spring ball, after all. But quarterback is the glamour job, for better or worse, and it’s best to get as much experience as possible. So why not play Thompson or Card against the Wildcats and Jayhawks? 

A coach who's planning on being here in 2021 certainly must be curious how they’d handle live action. What’s the downside? 

Remember, Texas is supposed to compete for championships. Nobody here signed up for a “.700 winning percentage” and another Texas Bowl. If a Big 12 championship is now off the table for 2020, it's time to start looking ahead. 

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.