If Arch Manning wants to best position himself to win a national championship, to be surrounded by future NFL talent, and to join a readymade power, then the five-star quarterback prospect’s recruiting decision should be simple: Choose Alabama or Georgia.
If he wants to carve his own legacy, though, then the most attractive choice for the latest ballyhooed talent from the First Family of SEC Football would be to choose a lame-duck Big 12 school.
If Manning can bring Texas “back,” that narrative would catapult what his grandfather Archie and uncles Peyton or Eli achieved during their standout careers in the SEC.
The tea leaves suggest the Longhorns are well-positioned in the Manning sweepstakes. On3.com lists Texas as the frontrunner for Manning’s commitment ahead of Georgia and Alabama, although the rising senior at Isidore Newman in New Orleans has said little publicly to distinguish Texas from those SEC powers.
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There’s no wrong choice here.
Manning is the top-rated player in the 2023 recruiting class. No matter his college choice, he’s on a path that leads to the NFL.
At Alabama and Georgia, Manning would enter a robust program and tasked with continuing the success.
Once a dynasty known for defense and bruising tailbacks, Alabama quarterbacks are second to none nowadays. Alabama’s Bryce Young is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and an early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. Alabama’s two previous quarterbacks, Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, became first-round draft picks.
But Alabama is never about any one player, and Manning could have a great career and still not establish himself on a higher plane than Tagovailoa, Jones or Young.
Reigning national champion Georgia has emerged as a twin power within the SEC. Like Alabama, signing with the Bulldogs would ensure Manning would be surrounded by elite talent, although defense is the calling card of coach Kirby Smart’s program.
Texas, meanwhile, is coming off a 5-7 season. The Longhorns have never reached the College Football Playoff, and they’ve had just two quarterbacks drafted since Vince Young became a first-round pick in 2006. Not since Young has a Texas offensive player been drafted in the first round.
What better way for Manning to escape the shadow of his grandfather and uncles than re-establishing Texas as a national power?
By Manning’s junior season, Texas will be in the SEC. When Texas A&M debuted in the SEC in 2012, Johnny Manziel ensured the Aggies a majestic arrival. Manning could have a similar effect for the Longhorns’ SEC debut.
Joining the established elite has never been a prerequisite for the Manning family.
Consider Peyton Manning’s selection of Tennessee. He forged his own path and signed as part of the Vols’ No. 1-ranked 1994 recruiting class, in what became a turning-point moment for UT’s success in the ’90s.
Peyton hit it off with Tennessee’s then-offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe during his recruitment and throughout his career. Eli later played for Cutcliffe when he was the coach at Ole Miss.
Comparatively, Arch Manning has meshed with Steve Sarkisian, who is entering his second season as Texas’ coach after two seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
“Obviously, he’s a freak of a coach with what he did at Alabama and the Falcons and everywhere else,” Arch Manning told 247Sports last year. “He knows how to coach quarterbacks. He’s actually just a real nice guy and really laid back, and I like him a lot.”
Like Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien boasts NFL experience. But given the rate the Tide cycles through offensive coordinators, the chance of O’Brien being at Alabama in 2023 seems no better than a coinflip.
Sarkisian, who played quarterback at BYU, doesn’t have an ironclad track record of success like Alabama coach Nick Saban or Smart. Alcohol issues cost Sarkisian his job at Southern Cal in 2015. But he’s always had a way with quarterbacks. Six of the quarterbacks Sarkisian worked with as an assistant at USC or Alabama became first-round draft picks.
Texas football, in its current form, isn’t comparable to Alabama or Georgia. Since 2010, the Longhorns have had five losing seasons and one 10-win season.
That could be part of the appeal.
Texas would provide more of a blank slate where Manning can paint himself as the savior for a slumbering program.