AUSTIN, Texas – Garrett Gilbert has hardly played since high school and in his only meaningful college game, he threw four interceptions as Texas lost the national championship to Alabama.
When Gilbert takes the field Saturday to lead No. 5 Texas against Rice, he will be replacing a quarterback who won an NCAA-record 45 games as a starter. And he'll do it with the full faith and confidence of Longhorns coaches and fans who believe he's the guy to keep them chasing national titles.
Chalk it up to his NFL family pedigree, a standout high school career and maybe that two-touchdown performance in the second half against the Crimson Tide back in January.
"(It) probably has given him a pass here, until he plays as a starter," coach Mack Brown said. "We all forget he's starting his first game on Saturday."
Brown's message to the guy following Colt McCoy?
"Win," Brown said. "That's all that matters.
"We can get into all those stats and all those other things but if you win the game, then you can move on to game two and that's it. If you lose the game, then you take a huge step back, then you're all over the place, starting over and trying to find out what is wrong."
The son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert won two Texas state championships at nearby Lake Travis High School. He was one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the country when Texas signed him in 2009, fully expecting he would take over for McCoy this season.
Gilbert got the role with minimal competition, a testament to his talent — and the program's lack of depth at the position.
From 2000-2006, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy all had to beat out others for their jobs. Simms battled Major Applewhite. Young at first rode the bench behind Chance Mock. McCoy had to fend of Jevan Snead, who eventually transferred to Mississippi.
The competition for playing time sharpened their skills while simultaneously creating vigorous — and sometimes nasty — debate among fans. Gilbert hasn't had to go through any of that.
The depth chart was cleared for Gilbert before he even got to campus. Texas didn't sign a quarterback in 2008, backup John Chiles moved to wide receiver and Gilbert was the only QB recruit in 2009.
As a freshman, he quickly rose to No. 2 over junior Sherrod Harris, who had shown no signs he could some day be the starter. Gilbert's playing time was minimal until he was tossed into the fire of the BCS championship game.
The first half was nearly a disaster and Gilbert's second interception was returned for a touchdown. The second half looked much better.
Gilbert got more confident with every play. His passes were sharper, he made better decisions and Texas rallied to within 24-21 before two late Alabama touchdowns put the game away.
Gilbert followed that with a good spring scrimmage that confirmed for Brown that he was Texas' future.
But what if Gilbert gets hurt or simply isn't as good as expected?
Texas is revamping its offense and Gilbert will likely take a lot of snaps under center, something he hasn't done since peewee football. Gilbert said he likes the change but notes the difficulty of having to learn new tricks to read a defense.
Texas has few options if he struggles.
Harris left the team on the eve of training camp, so freshmen Case McCoy (Colt's brother) and Connor Wood are the only backups. McCoy is listed as No. 2 and Wood will likely redshirt provided Gilbert or McCoy don't get injured.
Gilbert says he'll be nervous when he takes the field Saturday, even against a 30-point underdog like Rice. Texas has beaten Rice by an average score of 52-10 in four meetings since 2005.
"I've never played a football game where I didn't get a little bit nervous," Gilbert said. "I can't wait for it."
Gilbert, who has approached his new role with casual confidence, seemed unfazed when he met with reporters early in the week. He joked with teammates and talked about the music on his iPod. He mostly likes country.
His first start won't include the comforts of home, but it will be in front of a pro-Texas crowd. The game at Reliant Stadium in Houston figures to draw about 70,000, many wearing burnt orange. It will be Texas' first season opener on the road since 1995.
"He's got a lot on his plate right now. I'm sure his head will be spinning some by Saturday," Brown said. "I think it's a good challenge for this team to go on the road and have to play an opener out of their comfort zone for the first time."
Senior wide receiver James Kirkendoll has little doubt about Gilbert's potential for greatness. That second half against Alabama showed true grit, he said.
"How many other players have been in that situation?" Kirkendoll said. "He's a great player. With a little experience and confidence, the sky is the limit for him."