TAMPA ― The volatility of the college football landscape, replete with portals and pink slips, lends itself to bizarre scenarios such as the one that unfolds Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
When SMU’s surprisingly balanced Air Raid offense gets in formation, Charlie Strong will observe a quarterback he has spent more games coaching than his very own.
Mustangs graduate transfer Shane Buechele started all 12 contests for Strong in his final season at Texas in 2016.
“Charlie’s obviously gonna know what his strengths are, know what his weaknesses are,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said Monday. “He’s gonna have a real good feel for that.”
Will it matter Saturday? Probably not. Three years is a lifetime in college football. Buechele’s opening-night assignment as an 18-year-old against Notre Dame in 2016? That was two coaches and one transfer ago.
He’s 21 now, a veteran of ebbs and flows. He’s mastering a new system in a new setting. Moxie has supplanted precociousness.
Which doesn’t preclude Strong and Buechele from sharing a bearhug before or after Saturday’s game.
“Obviously Charlie recruited Shane and spent a lot of time with him,” Dykes said. “I know Shane’s got a lot of respect for Charlie, really likes him and thinks the world of him.”
A four-star in-state prospect from Arlington’s Lamar High, Buechele ― youngest in an athletic family of five kids ― enrolled at UT in January 2016. He quickly asserted himself as the team’s best ping-pong player, and set the fan base afire in the Longhorns spring game (299 yards, two touchdowns).
He earned the starting nod over senior Tyrone Swoopes against the 10th-ranked Irish on Labor Day weekend, becoming the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Longhorns since Bobby Layne in 1944.
While Swoopes had a pair of critical scoring runs in overtime, Buechele finished 16-for-26 for 280 yards, two TDs and an interception in a wild 50-47 UT triumph.
“His skill (made) a good combination because he was a very smart young man and a really good competitor,” Strong said.
“Comes from a really good family; his dad (Steve) at one time was with the Texas Rangers and then his brother (Garrett) played professional baseball. Just a very smart young man and had really good leadership ability.”
Less than three months later, Strong was out. Though Buechele passed for a UT freshman-record 2,958 yards, the Longhorns were unable to capitalize on the momentum of the Notre Dame win and finished 5-7.
He shared the starting job with Sam Ehlinger in an injury-besieged sophomore season, and departed after appearing in only two games in ’18.
Under Dykes, he and the Mustangs (4-0) have found new life.
Buechele, who graduated from UT last spring, ranks second in the American Athletic Conference in passing (289.8 ypg) and total offense (305.5 ypg), and third in pass efficiency (151.9).
In Saturday’s 41-38 road upset of No. 25 TCU, he threw for 288 yards and two TDs and ran for another as the Mustangs finished 6-for-7 in the red zone.
“When I had him in ’16, he was a true freshman,” Strong said. “So now to watch him develop, his game has really elevated because now he’s learned the game. ... When you’ve been in a program, and now the older you get, the wiser you become, and I think that’s where he is.”
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