Strengths: In some respects, things haven't changed much since last summer when I wrote of Simms' strengths: "A prototypical pro-style QB. At 6-5, he's tall enough to see over today's monstrous OLs. At 210-plus, he's physical enough to withstand a hit or two (the fewer the better, though). He has the athleticism to elude pass rushers and to tuck the ball and run. He has a cannon of an arm. And need I mention the bloodlines? It certainly doesn't hurt that he's spent his entire life around the game of football, the kind that's played on Sundays by the best players on the planet, one of which who just happens to be his father." Simms is still 6-5, he's bulked up to over 220 pounds and much of the vast potential I hinted at above materialized last season. The then-sophomore QB played in 10 regular season games, starting five of them, completing 67 of 117 attempts (57.3-percent) and totaling 1,064 yards passing with eight TDs and seven INTs for a quarterback rating of 144.25 (the best mark in the Big 12 last season, ahead of Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel). Simms, though, posted his best numbers over the season's final four games, weeks after the disastrous September and early-October QB rotation. In his first critical action after the OU game (after which the coaches scrapped the rotation and went with Major Applewhite as the starter), Simms stepped in for the injured Applewhite in the third quarter Nov. 4 in Lubbock and completed both his pass attempts, and led the Horns on two scoring drives to push a 19-16 third quarter lead to the 29-16 final. The next week in Lawrence, with a bit more wide-open gameplan, Simms passed for 240 yards and two TDs, plus two INTs, as Texas cruised to a 51-16 win over the Jayhawks. Against the Aggies, Simms shredded the ailing A&M secondary for 383 yards and three TDs. And finally, in the Holiday Bowl, Simms totaled 245 yards (but threw four INTs) in the Horns' 35-30 loss to the Ducks. Those numbers bear out the belief that Simms is capable of posting some monster passing numbers.
Weaknesses: Decision-making. Simply put, Simms throws too many balls to the guys in the wrong jerseys. Despite the fantastic QB rating last season, the then-sophomore QB tossed more INTs (11) than TDs (8). With some QBs, INTs are a result of less-than-ideal physical skills. That obviously is not the case with Simms. His picks seem to be a case of either locking on to one receiver or misreading opposing coverages. Thankfully, both are fixable.
Analysis: Much of the blame for Simms' early-season inconsistencies in '00 can be laid at the feet of the Texas coaches and their erratic use of both QBs. Remember, though, that Simms entered last fall's Louisiana-Lafayette game with all of one start under his belt. He just didn't have much live-action experience, and it showed in his play. Coupled with the uncertainty of the QB situation, that inexperience (and the lack of a seasoned WR corps) led to relatively disappointing results through the Oklahoma game. But as I mentioned earlier, Simms quickly closed the gap between his on-paper potential and his on-field performance when given the opportunity to be the starter. He has to cut down on his INTs, but this fall, given a similar no-doubt starting opportunity from the opening gun of game one (and with the great wide receiver group and the return of favorite target Bo Scaife), Simms seems poised for a break-out, all-American-caliber season. There is one wildcard: if Simms struggles early in the season, will the UT coaches throw Applewhite into the fray, essentially reigniting the combustible QB controversy of last fall? If so, all bets on Simms' season are off.
Second team: Major Applewhite, Senior
Strengths: Experience and proven ability. Few back-up QBs have the been there, done that credentials of Applewhite. Heading into his senior season, Major has already started 29 games in his UT career. He holds just about every Texas passing record, including passing yardage (7,974), QB rating (136.00), completions (582) and completion percentage (57.1-percent). He has orchestrated shocking wins (at NU in '98) and last-second comebacks (A&M in '98 and others) among his 21 victories. Applewhite played in nine games last season, starting six of them, and completed 152 of 279 attempts (54.5-percent), totaling 2,164 yards passing with 18 TDs and seven INTs for a quarterback rating of 135.91 (third in the league, just behind Heupel).
Weaknesses: Applewhite has few weaknesses in his mental game. His weaknesses are more with his body. He is coming off knee injury No. 2. His mobility has always been a drawback, and after another knee injury rehab, will that problem only be exacerbated? Quite possibly. Applewhite's physique (6-1, 207 pounds), while not exactly tiny by most standards, doesn't quite measure up to that of Simms, the QB he is measured against on the Forty Acres. At one time, say, through the Tech game of the '99 season, Major had an aura of invincibility. He was the undisputed team leader and he had the program on a roll heading into the A&M game in College Station. His illness that day, and his inability to lead the Horns to victory in the fourth quarter at Kyle Field, seemed to shatter that aura. Major (and most of the other Longhorns) did not play well a week later in San Antonio when Nebraska swatted Texas aside for the Big 12 title, and he went down less than a month later in the Cotton Bowl with his first knee injury. Last season, his 4-2 record as a starter and his knee injury during the Tech game effectively buried the belief that he was a QB that could lead Texas to an undefeated season. And despite the question marks still surrounding Simms, the belief still holds that the junior QB from New Jersey is capable of pulling off what Applewhite has not.
Analysis: I'm going to paraphrase something I wrote in last year's QB outlook because I think it still fits. Football, like life, is not always fair. In a perfectly fair world, Major would be rewarded for his gutsy, three-year performance for the Horns by closing out his last season in the Orange and White as the team's starting QB, piling up victories and more passing records on the way. College football is not a fair world. College football is about winning games. The UT coaches, as they have often stated, are in search of players who can win every game. Simms is that type of player. Major is not.
Third team: Chance Mock, Redshirt freshman
Strengths: Athleticism. Mock, like many of the new breed of successful college QBs, looks more comfortable tucking the ball and running as he does tossing it to a receiver.
Weaknesses: Ditto above. The fact that Mock is more likely to tuck it and run, as he showed during spring, doesn't fit well into an offense that features the likes of Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas, Bo Scaife and Brock Edwards. Those guys are too good to be used as decoys for a running QB.
Analysis: The fact that Mock has the ability to be a dual-threat QB could pay large dividends to the Longhorn offense in the long-run. In the short-run (read: this fall), Mock must become more adept at running the Texas offense. Redshirt freshman Mock, with Simms and Applewhite ahead of him on the depth chart, should have the luxury of doing just that this fall without enormous pressure.
Fourth team: Matt Nordgren, True freshman and probable redshirt