AUSTIN (KXAN) — Quinn Ewers will try to beat the odds when he opens the season as the Texas Longhorns starting quarterback on Sept. 3 against Louisiana-Monroe.
If Ewers stayed all four years at Southlake Carroll High School, this would be his true freshman season, but he graduated early and enrolled at Ohio State. While Ewers is as old as other true freshmen, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said the year in Columbus has helped him prepare for this moment.
“He’s a guy who really should be a true freshman in college but yet got some great experience of going to Ohio State,” Sarkisian said. “Being there for four months or whatever that was last fall. And got to be part of some great environments, got to be part of a really good staff and game planning and why they did what they did, and a team that had a heck of a year and was a Rose Bowl champion and all the things that they did. So I think he was exposed to a lot. I don’t feel like he’s a true freshman because of the exposure he got last year.”
In fact, Ewers was behind then-redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud, who is one of the Heisman Trophy favorites this season.
“Definitely the semester I was at Ohio State helped me a lot,” Ewers said. “Coming in here basically a freshman, it really helped me, it was kind of like a learning stone for me.”
When you look at recent Texas football history, Texas has had several true or redshirt freshmen starting quarterbacks, but most took over during the season. In 1989, Pete Gardere took over four games in. While he led the team to the first of his four wins over Oklahoma, Texas went 5-6 that season. Gardere’s numbers were solid, passing for 1,511 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions and a 57.5% completion percentage.
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
In 2003, redshirt freshman Vince Young took over the job midseason and went 6-1 as a starter. His only loss as a starter was to Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
In 12 games, Young passed for 1,155 yards with six touchdowns with seven interceptions. Young also rushed for 998 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Following the 2005 National Championship season, Young left for the NFL and redshirt freshman Colt McCoy took over and started all four years. Unlike this year’s Texas team, unranked in the preseason by the Associated Press, the 2006 Longhorns were ranked No. 2 and faced off against No. 1 Ohio State in the second week of the season. Assuming Alabama wins its opener against Utah State and Ewers remains the starter, he will face the top team in the nation in week two at Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium — as McCoy did.
McCoy and the Longhorns lost that game to Ohio State 24-7 before going on to a 10-3 season, including a win over Oklahoma and a win in the Alamo Bowl. McCoy was outstanding, passing for 2,570 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 68% of his passes.
In 2016 it was true freshman Shane Buechele who won the starting job and went on to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. Buechele passed for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions that season, but Texas struggled and finished 5-7.
While Buechele won the starting job in Tom Herman’s first season in 2017, Sam Ehlinger also started six games as a true freshman, going 2-4 as a starter.
Last season, redshirt freshman Hudson Card — the guy Ewers beat out for the job this year — won the starting job ahead of Casey Thompson. After leading the Longhorns to a 38-18 win over Louisiana with 224 yards, two touchdown passes and a touchdown run, Card was replaced in week two at Arkansas and did not start another game.
The greatest season by a redshirt freshman quarterback happened 10 years again 2012 when Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. Manziel went on to become the first freshman or redshirt freshman quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.
The guy who won the Heisman the year after Manziel was also a redshirt freshman. It was Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Going back further to 2007, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford turned in an outstanding season as a redshirt freshman with 3.121 passing years with a 69.5% completion percentage to go with 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Sooners went 11-2 that year, winning the Big 12 Conference championship game over Missouri. Bradford won the Heisman Trophy the next season with McCoy among the finalists.
To go back even further, Peyton Manning made eight starts for the Tennessee Volunteers in 1994 as a true freshman. He was 7-1 as a starter and was named the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the year with 1,141 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.