AUSTIN, Texas — Texas coach Charlie Strong is keeping his big secret until game day.
Strong on Monday declined to say will start at quarterback when the Longhorns face No. 10 Notre Dame on Sunday in their 2016 season opener, declaring only that he already knows who will it will be. His choices are freshman Shane Buechele or senior Tyrone Swoopes. The only thing he will promise right now is that “both are going to play.”
Buechele was the standout during spring practice but Swoopes has starting experience over the past two seasons.
It’s a critical decision for the third-year coach who is 11-14 after two seasons and facing intense pressure to turn the program around and get Texas back to a bowl game.
The decision has swirled around the program for months, yet Strong kept deflecting about a dozen quarterback questions in his weekly news conference. He laughed as they became more repetitive.
He also sent some mixed signals. Strong said both Buechele and Swoopes will play, but one of them will be the clear starter.
“When we name the QB he is our starter and he will be our starter,” Strong said, “unless he gets beat out.”
And then there’s the experience factor. Strong loves to praise Buechele’s work ethic as a young player, using the basketball term “gym rat” to describe his passion for the game.
Then he notes that as a freshman, Buechele “hasn’t been here” in the spotlight of a nationally televised game between two storied programs.
Swoopes has. It didn’t go well.
After starting most of 2014 when Texas went 6-7, Swoopes beat out Jerrod Heard to the earn the start in the 2015 season-opener at Notre Dame. Texas lost 38-3 and Swoopes lost his job and didn’t get it back until Heard got injured late in the season as the Longhorns finished 5-7.
Texas hired new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, giving all the quarterbacks a fresh start. Buechele made the most of it by enrolling early and participating in spring drills. He emerged — at least publicly — as the favorite to start this season with 299 yards passing a pair of touchdowns in one half of the spring scrimmage.
But clearly Swoopes has done enough behind closed-door practices to make a case to be the senior starter.
Strong said his team will know who the starter is this week even if the fans don’t.
“We really have no idea,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “We go to practice every day and see both.”