Texas QB competition: Sizing up Sam Ehlinger vs. Shane Buechele

Who has the edge in Texas' quarterback battle between Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele? That will be on second-year coach Tom Herman to figure out.

Texas coach Tom Herman enters the 2018 season with the same question at quarterback the Longhorns had last season: Who's going to be the starter?

It's a two-way battle between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger, and that battle figures to carry over into fall camp. And Herman will need more from whoever wins that starting job.

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Why? The expectations never change for the Longhorns, who are coming off a 7-6 season but still need more production from the most important position. Sporting News is breaking down the key quarterback battles in college football, and what to expect from each. Today, a look at Texas' quarterback roster:

Texas QB competition

Who's out?

Freshman Blake Nevins and sophomore Josh Covey, both preferred walk-ons on the Longhorns' 2017 roster, no longer appear on Texas' 2018 spring roster. Covey transferred to FCS program Stephen F. Austin to compete for a job. Neither quarterback attempted a pass last season.

Who's in?

Ehlinger. The sophomore played in nine games and started in six games in 2017, leading the Longhorns in passing yards (1,915) and rushing yards (381).

Buechele. The junior started in seven games last year and has 21 appearances the last two seasons. He finished with 1,405 passing yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions in 2017.

Cameron Rising. The four-star quarterback from Newbury Park, Calif., is an early enrollee. At 6-1, 235 pounds, he likely will need time to learn the system and acclimate to the college game.

Casey Thompson. Another four-star enrollee, Thompson isn't quite as big as Rising (6-0, 190 pounds), but he's another Tim Beck recruit who might get a chance down the line.

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What makes this battle unique?

It seems like it never ends. Ehlinger and Buechele were in this spot last season, and Texas ended up with a de facto two-quarterback system that hasn't produced big numbers yet: Ehlinger and Buechele combined for just 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. Both quarterbacks played in the Longhorns' 33-16 victory against Missouri in the Texas Bowl, but Herman didn't commit to a starter — or even a leader — heading into 2018. Expect that to stretch into the spring and summer, but Texas needs somebody to take command of this job.

Three more questions

Will Ehlinger take the next step?

Ehlinger led Texas in rushing, but only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. He needs to increase his completion percentage and cut down the turnovers, but the potential is there for a breakout sophomore season in Herman's system. Ehlinger played well in victories against Kansas State, West Virginia and Missouri last year, but he struggled with accuracy against USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Those are the big games in which both quarterbacks will be judged, and it wouldn't hurt to have a much better running game behind them.

Can Buechele stay healthy?

Don't forget that Buechele threw for 21 touchdowns as a freshman in 2016, but his stop-and-start sophomore season was plagued with knee and shoulder injuries. He left the Texas Bowl with a groin strain. Buechele doesn't run as much, but his completion percentage went up as a sophomore and he still has a chance as an upperclassman to take the job back. Injuries can't get in the way, however, in spring practice or fall camp.

Will a graduate transfer get involved?

Herman faces that pressure, and it's fair to wonder whether Texas would be willing to consider a graduate transfer if neither Ehlinger nor Buechele stands out. That market isn't as deep as last year, but there are a few interesting candidates. Herman could just as easily stick with Ehlinger and Buechele and hope the second year in the system pays off.

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Stat that matters

We're not exaggerating about Texas' quarterback production. Here's a look at the overall passing stats from Longhorns' quarterbacks the last five seasons.

Year Comp. Att. Yds TDs INTs
2017 298 496 3,365 18 11
2016 241 400 3,024 21 12
2015 139 252 1,751 9 6
2014 243 418 2,599 14 11
2013 246 430 2,762 18 15

Texas quarterbacks have averaged 2,700 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a season the last five years, and that comes with a 58.5 completion percentage. It's not a coincidence the Longhorns' record is 31-32 under three different coaches in that stretch.

Like we said: Herman needs more from his quarterbacks.

Who wins?

Ehlinger has a slight lead heading into the spring, but the competition should be more intense this season with the backdrop of higher expectations. It's on Buechele to reclaim the job, but the Longhorns don't want an ongoing quarterback battle in September against a nonconference slate that includes Maryland, Tulsa and USC.