"I think we are seeing David Ash as the clear-cut starting quarterback going into the spring," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "Coming out of a year where he's won 10 of the last 10 games he's played, he was in the top 10 in passing efficiency.
"I really don't think he's gotten near the accolades that he deserves," Brown said. "And I think he has a chance to be really, really good this year."
Ash played in every game except for the Kansas State contest a year ago, completing 214-of-318 passes (67.3 percent) for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He added another 141 yards and two touchdowns rushing. To put that more into perspective: in his sophomore season, Ash had a better passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per completion, touchdown rate and interception rate than former Longhorn star Colt McCoy had in his sophomore campaign.
"I thought David played really well at Ole Miss under some pressure," Brown said. "I thought he played really, really well at Oklahoma State and won a game late which is hard for a young quarterback to do. I thought that was kind of a breakthrough moment for him. We didn't finish West Virginia like we wanted to. We didn't play well at Oklahoma. He had a great game against Baylor, and then he didn't play well at Kansas. He came back and had great game against Iowa State. That's when he got hurt.
"And then I thought he came back in the latter part of the bowl game, I thought he had a real breakthrough on about three plays with his feet," Brown said. "The play that he scrambled and dived for the first down down to the right side of our bench going in, the quarterback draw that Major called, he dove into the end zone, spiked the ball and had a little emotion there and all the guys rallied around him. And then I thought really, specifically, the play that he scrambled and threw to Johnathan Gray was a great play, that changed the game. And then he stood right in there and threw deep to Marquise [Goodwin] at the end and made that play."
But while so many pointed to the bowl game as a turning point, showing Ash's ability to rebound from a poor start for the first time, Brown said that lesson might have actually come after an earlier game.
"I think we label things pretty quickly sometimes," Brown said. "He got a slow start at Kansas and did not come out of it, and I think that was a great learning experience for him. We had conversations with him the next week and said, 'What's the deal, what happened? You just looked like you were in the fog.' I think he gave us an answer that was, 'It was something I learned; I didn't come out of it.' TCU, I don't think that one is on him. Like I said, he really showed a lot of courage to play as sore as he was and try to fight through it.
"But I thought the bowl game was a perfect ending for him," Brown went on. "A slow start, new offensive coordinator, had not called plays all year, the whole offense should have been in trouble, putting pieces together for a bowl game - the plan that you had didn't work at all."
Ash and the offense were able to respond in the second half, outscoring the Beavers 21-7 in coming from behind late, with the Texas quarterback throwing for two scores and running for the other.
Now Ash will try to take that next step forward into stardom. McCoy emerged as arguably the country's top quarterback as a junior, setting the national record for completion percentage and leading Texas to within a dropped interception of the BCS National Championship game. And as Ash prepares for that role, he has the benefit of two former Longhorn signal callers as advice givers: offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and past star Vince Young.
"Vince being here as helped him," Brown said. "He's had numerous conversations with Vince about leadership and moving forward. I've talked to him about those conversations. He and Major hit a really good point. I think he's ready to go and he's excited about what we are doing as well."