Baker Mayfield doesn’t like Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger — he said so on Norman’s KREF Radio recently — but I do.
Terry Bradshaw doesn’t respect Ehlingler — he said so during an appearance at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, recently — but I do.
Ehlinger doesn’t have Bradshaw’s arm. He doesn’t put up Mayfield’s stats.
He does tend to matter most in important games. He does, as the Longhorns’ most valuable, more assertive player, provide the most inspiration for the “Texas is back” narrative.
I really appreciate the kid.
But as I stare at my Preseason All-Big 12 Conference ballot, I can’t pencil him in at quarterback.
Sorry, Sam, but that’s going to be Jalen Hurts.
I don’t know that Hurts has an NFL arm, either. I doubt he’s going to rack up the numbers Mayfield and Kyler Murray did the past four seasons at Oklahoma.
He is going to play for Lincoln Riley, same as his two predecessors. That fact is enough to make Hurts a reasonable preseason candidate for the Heisman Trophy, let alone All-Big 12.
We have a four-year sample size to work with here. Mayfield and Murray flashed considerable talent at OU — the Browns and Cardinals, respectively, saw as much before drafting them No. 1 overall — but the constant was their coaching.
Now Riley coaches Hurts, another quarterback who has shown us some attractive raw tools. That mix of sagacity and skill is a pretty safe bet.
It is safer than another year of Ehlinger and Tom Herman.
It isn’t fair to say Ehlinger has thrived in spite of his head coach. Herman isn’t the savant we thought he might be when he was at Houston or Ohio State, but it isn’t like he’s reading “Playcalling for Dummies” before bed. He, along with Texas offensive coordinator/QBs coach Tim Beck, has developed Ehlinger OK.
It’s just that Ehlinger seems to be the driving force behind his success. It is a convenient conclusion to draw when you see him drag a swarm of OU defenders another 10 yards in the Cotton Bowl.
Hurts with Riley is a safer bet than Charlie Brewer and Matt Rhule, much as I admire what Rhule has done with his quarterback and his entire program at Baylor.
Hurts with Riley is safer than Brock Purdy and Matt Campbell, and I admire Campbell even more than I do Rhule.
Hurts with Riley is safer than Alan Bowman and Matt Wells, and I admire Bowman as much as I do Brewer and Purdy. I can’t tell how Wells’ transition to Big 12 coaching will go, so I’m not ready to bet on his quarterback in a preseason poll.
Hurts with Riley is safer than Spencer Sanders and Mike Gundy, and that’s due to some mystery behind the quarterback, not the coach. I trust Gundy to help new coordinator Sean Gleeson develop Oklahoma State’s new starting quarterback.
But since we can’t say for certain that starter is going to be Sanders, and since nobody has seen Sanders play college football to begin with, it’s too big a leap to make the redshirt freshman the All-Big 12 QB.
Nobody has seen Hurts play at OU. We all saw him go 26-2 at Alabama, though. We all saw what his new coach did with Mayfield and Murray.
It’s possible this could fizzle like a dud bottle rocket. That Hurts could struggle to mesh with his new system or new receivers. He could sprain an ankle or pull a hamstring against Houston. You can’t be certain of anything about a football season in July.
You can lay odds, though. That’s what preseason polls are about. Odds are that Hurts, with Riley’s guidance, will detonate like the fireworks at River Parks.
Ehlinger might be my favorite quarterback in the Big 12. That doesn’t make him the favorite to be the best quarterback in the conference.