The first tweet Arch Manning fired out from his verified account was the answer the college football world has been asking for literal years at this point.
It was his college decision, a simple post informing the masses that the most famous football recruit of a generation will look to sign a national letter of intent in December at Texas.
While the grandson of Archie Manning and nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning is now fully focused on his senior season at New Orleans Isidore Newman, the pressure, eyeballs, expectations and premature scrutiny are also headed to Austin. From Steve Sarkisian, who edged his old boss Nick Saban and reigning national champion Kirby Smart among dozens of other programs for the perceived top quarterback in the nation, to all of his assistants and the current team itself—it's game on at Texas.
The first tangible splash following the news will be among Manning's peers. The class of 2023 at Texas is sure to begin growing with blue chip talent, as many have already admitted the intrigue and coverage around Manning's decision could be a factor in their own. Precedent tells us the most likely positions where one would expect UT to uptick are the offensive skill spots, wide receiver and running back, and up front as offensive line recruits will want to sign up to protect him.
While Texas’s list of targets has an inch of additional interest as of Thursday, wide receiver Johntay Cook has been on record about potentially pairing with the Louisianan. A slot and return specialist-type with track speed and polish to boot, Cook is considering programs like Texas A&M, Michigan, Oregon, Ole Miss and others in addition to the Horns. He has visited Austin with Manning multiple times and threw out a notable prediction when speaking to SI in the spring.
“Don’t be surprised if me and Arch are at the same school," Cook said with an ear-to-ear smile. On Thursday he tweeted three different times in reference to Manning's pick or his own potential to wind up in Austin. Running back Rueben Owens, another Texan who was once pledged to Sarkisian and Co., had previously talked about pairing with Manning and/or Cook. He committed to Louisville earlier this week, but intrigue around his future signature remains.
Don't discount other targets beginning to make moves, even in the class of 2024 and beyond given the fact that Manning will be enrolled at that point. Either way, a snapshot of any UT class commitment list is sure to grow sooner rather than later.
Even before the Longhorns move to the SEC, ahead of just the second year the current staff is in town, there won't be a more talked about program the remainder of the offseason and certainly once the season begins. Minutes after Manning's decision came in, multiple outlets continued asking the question the sport has since Vince Young and Colt McCoy were in town.
Is Texas back?
It's far too early to know, especially coming off of a 5–7 season that included a now infamous loss to Big 12 basement constant Kansas, and it's downright unfair to heap any expectation on the teenage passer between his junior and senior seasons of high school. But, alas, it's the day and social-media-driven age of hot takes—and takedowns—we live in.
And what of Quinn Ewers? The transfer talent is a teenager himself (19) and now not only holds the pressure of trying to bring UT "back" before Manning comes to town, but he is being looked at to do so without any college experience to his name going into the fall (presuming he wins the job over Hudson Card). If a veteran like Spencer Rattler could earn a relatively quick hook in a rivalry game for No. 1 recruit Caleb Williams last fall, despite experience and plenty of winning for Oklahoma at the time, what will UT's future look like should Ewers have a slow start to this season?
A reminder probably isn't needed for fans of college football, but the Longhorns host preseason No. 1 Alabama and Saban on Sept. 10. It will presumably be the second college start of the Ewers era and undoubtedly the biggest game for Sarkisian early in his own Texas tenure.
But Texas should not only expect the spotlight descending on them by the minute, it should plan for it and be on a path toward embracing it. Going head to head with Saban, Smart, Dabo Swinney, Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin and scores of others says plenty on its own. It comes with a secondary expectation that Manning will play, and play sometime soon, at that.
Nationally, top-ranked QB recruits with anything close to the Manning fanfare have been hard to keep off the field. Talent warranted Trevor Lawrence to take the reins as a true freshman halfway through the 2018 season, when Clemson won their last national title. That same year, Georgia fans called for Justin Fields to get the call over Jake Fromm, but it never materialized. Fields transferred and excelled at Ohio State soon after. The year before, Tua Tagovailoa had built buzz at Alabama despite Jalen Hurts' winning ways before Saban subbed him in at halftime of the 2017 national title win over Georgia. Other recent No. 1's, Rattler and Bryce Young, sat their freshman seasons before breakout sophomore runs.
Per the 247Sports rankings over the past 10 recruiting cycles, the top-ranked passer in the land has waited no more than one season to take the reins. The last to wait two-plus seasons before being handed the keys was Max Browne at USC in the 2013 cycle.
It means the panic button from Texas fans waiting to see Manning will be all the way smashed at the outset of the 2024 season. All parties are likely aware, despite a family and local attempt to make Manning's recruitment as normal as possible. So to pick Texas anyway, surely a pledge where many around the 6'4", 225-pound passer were intimately involved throughout, says something.
Many will view Thursday's decision as an outside-the-box pick relative to the Georgia and Alabama angle. Each of the SEC powers is coming off of a national title game appearance while also representing the last two national champions altogether. Each has a deep quarterback room where the pressure of being the No. 1 QB recruit will feel more like being the next No. 1 QB recruit, as opposed to a fairly new staff and transfer like UT is navigating in 2022.
In looking at Texas’s eligibility situation, the Manning decision will likely eventually create movement within the room. Ewers is a second-year freshman, meaning he can declare for the NFL Draft following the 2023 season (Manning's freshman year). Card is an underclassman, and the program signed SI99 recruit Maalik Murphy in the ’22 cycle. Should Ewers apex as a sophomore and/or junior over the next two seasons, the door could theoretically break open for Manning to ascend to QB1 in ’24. It certainly projected as the phenom’s quickest path to playing time.
Timelines, hype and name recognition aside, Sarkisian, quarterbacks coach AJ Milwee and many others on the Longhorn coaching staff deserve plenty of credit for closing the deal for Manning.
And the kid—who those around him contend is all he has wanted to be while in high school—made his choice against the grain with rings, winning and a patient road to any NFL potential ahead of him elsewhere. If this works out, and Manning indeed brings the program back all while transitioning to the nation's toughest conference, no less?
Then there aren’t enough hype, pressure or detractors to go around.
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