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Sams leading CU Buffs, Texas into Alamo Bowl

QBs share name, dual threat talent, but have different levels of experience

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 12, 2020: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer has led the Buffs to a 4-1 record in his first season as the starter.

They are both named Sam. They’re both seniors. They’re both quarterbacks that are dangerous with their legs.

And, on Tuesday, they will both lead their teams into the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio (7:05 p.m., TV: ESPN).

While Colorado’s Sam Noyer and Texas’ Sam Ehlinger have some things in common, they are both on different levels of experience going into the final game of the season.

For Ehlinger, this could be the last game of a celebrated career with the 20th-ranked Longhorns (6-3). For Noyer, it’ll be just his sixth start with the Buffs (4-1).

“They’re both seniors, but here’s a guy (Ehlinger) that’s had multi years of experience and our Sam that’s had five games of experience,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Our Sam has a lot more on the table that he can … grow from and learn from.”

Although Noyer is a fifth-year senior, the NCAA has granted all players an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic. Noyer has not publicly announced his plans for 2021, but it is expected he will return.

“We’re hoping that this week he shows those steps of improvement,” Dorrell said, “that he can play a solid game so that he can bring that into his offseason, being energized and motivated about improving and being ready to go for another year.

“But both Sams are very good players.”

Courtesy Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger holds the MVP trophy after defeating Utah in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, on Dec. 31, 2019.

Ehlinger came to Texas as a four-star recruit in 2017 and became the starter as a true freshman, beating out incumbent Shane Buechele, who later transferred to SMU.

With 11,276 career passing yards, Ehlinger is second in the country among active players (384 yards behind Buechele). Ehlinger also has 93 career touchdown passes, as well as 1,912 yards and 33 touchdowns as a runner.

A 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior who grew up in Austin near the UT campus, Ehlinger is 26-16 as a starter. He’s led the Longhorns to three bowl victories (two as a starter), and was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl (against Georgia) two years ago and the Alamo Bowl (against Utah) last year.

“He’s really developed and I would say he’s one of the top rated quarterbacks in the country right now,” Dorrell said. “He’s a big athlete, he’s strong — physically strong — and you can tell that just with his physique. He’s good with running the football. The thing that I’ve been really impressed with that he’s really tailored his talents to is that he’s become a very, very efficient passer, and he has great fundamental skills. He works the pocket and he can extend plays, and he can make reads and throw the ball very effectively.

“He’s obviously a three- or four-year starter and he’s playing that way.”

Although the Longhorns haven’t been national title contenders, Ehlinger has cemented his legacy as a winner, in part because of his success in bowl games. The Longhorns were underdogs in each of Ehlinger’s three bowl appearances.

Noyer, meanwhile, is just getting started — even though he’s nearly a full year older than Ehlinger. Noyer came to CU in 2016, but spent three years as a backup quarterback and then 2019 as a backup safety.

With his bachelor’s degree in hand last winter, Noyer entered the NCAA transfer portal to try to play quarterback at another school. Then, Dorrell was hired and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini gave Noyer a call, offering him a chance to compete for the starting job.

“I felt like he could help us,” Chiaverini said this week on the Buffs PrimeTime radio show.

Noyer, who is 6-4 and 220 pounds, won the job and then won his first four starts. His overall passing numbers this season aren’t exceptional — 80-for-137 (58.4 %) for 1,000 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions — but he’s also racked up 191 yards and five touchdowns as a runner.

Noyer has done it all while dealing with a shoulder injury during the season.

“He’s been able to overcome that and keep fighting,” Chiaverini said. “I’m so proud of that kid, because he has exceeded some of my expectations, but I knew he could do it.”

This week, Noyer was named second-team All-Pac-12, becoming the first CU quarterback to be named first or second team all-conference since 1997 (Koy Detmer, first team).

More impressive than Noyer’s statistics is the leadership he has displayed.

“He’s got a bunch of confidence,” Chiaverini said. “Even when he makes mistakes in games, he doesn’t get fazed by it. I love that about him. He doesn’t go in the tank. He’s a competitor. The players love playing for him, offense and defense. He’s really carried us at times this year.”

Ehlinger has carried Texas in many games over the past four years. He said he’s undecided whether to return for a fifth season or go to the NFL, but this could be his last opportunity to play in burnt orange and there’s motivation to win his fourth bowl.

For Noyer, it’s an opportunity to get a signature win, but it could also just be the next step in what has been a rapid rise.

“We’re very pleased with how Sam came along in such a short period of time,” Dorrell said.