We'll start with the rocky parts. Only the last-place Kansas Jayhawks featured a starting quarterback with a worse rating than Gilbert, who passed for 2,744 yards and just 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, the worst touchdown-to-interception ratio of a Big 12 starter.
He struggled with turnovers, started slowly in most games and failed to get the Longhorns into the end zone in red zone situations.
But a lot of those struggles weren't necessarily Gilbert's fault. Texas's receivers found it difficult to get open and even when they did get open, the Longhorns were plagued by drops at times. The inability to establish a running game was an even bigger problem. Early on, Texas staff members said they wanted to run the ball to lessen the pressure on Gilbert and break him in slowly.
But the Longhorns had a hard time running the ball and instead put Gilbert into rough situations. He was also a victim of too-conservative play-calling by now departed offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who believed that a sideways passing game would allow Gilbert to get some confidence early. Instead, the result was often a floundering early offensive output, which left the Longhorns behind on the scoreboard and needing to pass to catch up.
At times, Gilbert responded admirably, emerging as one of the team's top rushing threats. He ran for 366 yards on 76 carries (4.8 yards per carry) in Texas's final seven games (52.2 yards per game). That was a major improvement over the 14 yards on 24 carries (1.7 per carry) in his first five games (almost three yards rushing per game). Perhaps more impressively, those numbers count in yards lost for sacks.
At the same time, he made some big-time throws that few other quarterbacks in the Big 12 could have made. At other times however — like his five-interception performance against Kansas State, he looked like a poor first-year starter working with deficient parts and unable to overcome adversity.
And that's where Gilbert leaves the Longhorns heading into his junior season, the head piece of a young quarterback group. Gilbert was backed up by sophomore quarterback Case McCoy, who threw just one pass last year in mop-up duty (one throw less than running back Fozzy Whittaker had), and redshirt freshman Connor Wood, who lost the early battle with McCoy last fall, but who will have a chance to make up for it this spring.
Texas coach Mack Brown has said that Gilbert's job — and the jobs for every other player on roster — will be open for competition this spring. Both McCoy and Wood are talented, but so is Gilbert, a former National Player of the Year in high school.
It's also worth noting that the offensive coordinator could have an impact on who emerges from that competition. But whoever does win the job will have all the expectations in the world on them, and with an offense that should feature more weapons than a year ago, the quarterback will expected to steer the Longhorn offense to a higher output.
2011 Commitments: David Ash, 6-3 200, Belton
Ash is an intriguing study. In a camp or 7-on-7 setting, he's hardly the most impressive quarterback prospect. He has mechanic issues and can make poor reads. But strap the pads on and fire up the lights and there are few better. He's competitive, has some running ability and can wing it all over the field. Ash faced a number of good defenses this year, but lit up the scoreboard against most of them. The odds are against him stepping right in as the Longhorn quarterback in 2011, but he's certainly an excellent guy to develop and look at in the future. He's also worth keeping on roster for his punting ability — Ash was a first-team Class 5A All-State selection at punter, where he averaged 45.9 yards per boot.
Future Outlook: The Longhorns have done a nice job of spacing out their quarterbacks. In 2012, Gilbert will be a senior, McCoy a junior, Wood a sophomore and, in all likelihood, Ash a redshirt freshman. That means one quarterback spot is probably open in the 2012 class, and Texas has three excellent potential prospects in Chaparral (Ariz.) QB Connor Brewer, San Antonio Reagan QB Trevor Knight and Klein Forest QB Matt Davis. Brewer is the most accurate thrower of the bunch with Davis, who is recovering from an ACL injury, serving as the best athlete. Knight has a nice mixture of athleticism and throwing ability.