Arch Manning’s decision to play quarterback for the University of Texas beginning in 2023 instantly addresses so many of the program’s desperate needs. That Manning turned down every other program in the country to spend his NCAA career on the Forty Acres is a huge and much-needed endorsement of second-year Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian.
With Thursday’s announcement, the Longhorns have finally gotten the public’s attention for something other than being the most underachieving program in college football. Manning is that good. His arm is superb, his work ethic is by all accounts relentless, and his instincts are fitting of the family name.
Arch Manning is the grandson of Archie Manning and the nephew of Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli. Arch brings a generational skill set to the Longhorns, and his recruitment has been one of college football’s most-covered stories.
Great quarterbacks bring a swagger into a building. They instill confidence in their teammates, coaches, and fans—a feeling that any game is winnable. Quarterback play can mask all sorts of weaknesses elsewhere on a team, and Manning will arrive as one of the most heralded high school quarterbacks ever.
He’s the Longhorns’ first number one overall recruit in the ESPN 300 since the company began ranking high school talent in 2006, and he’s a reminder of Sarkisian’s reputation as one of the country’s best quarterback coaches (he’s worked with Matt Leinart at USC, as well as Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones at Alabama.
“Sark, besides being a genius in pass game and second to none in football acumen and offensive ideology, he’s a good person,” said Nelson Stewart, Manning’s high school coach at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, in an interview with ESPN.
Suddenly, there’s a jolt of optimism around Austin that the Longhorns might finally be capable of competing on the national stage after twelve seasons of irrelevance. Even better, Manning’s commitment will likely nudge other elite high school players toward joining him at UT, where sharing the national spotlight with Manning and playing with a quarterback capable of elevating an entire offense around him could help punch several tickets to the NFL.
Of course, recruiting coveted high school players has never been a problem for the Longhorns. Sarkisian signed the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class this year and also landed the most coveted player from the transfer portal: quarterback Quinn Ewers, a former star at Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll, who spent the 2021 season at Ohio State.
What the UT football program has lacked is that singular talent with the ability to transform an entire program. If both Ewers and Manning are as good as advertised, then the Longhorns might just fulfill the promise that comes with having all that money and all those facilities and pretty much every advantage imaginable except, well, success.
If you’re cynical about the Manning news, that’s understandable. Texas hasn’t been anything special for a dozen years, and the team is coming off a 5–7 season that was an embarrassment on almost every level. UT didn’t just lose games last year; it lost them spectacularly. The Longhorns’ six-game losing streak was the program’s longest in 65 years. The lowly Kansas Jayhawks came to Austin and won a Big 12 road game for the first time in thirteen years. Arkansas ran Texas off the field, and the Longhorns blew double-digit leads in losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor.
The program’s decline began 4,551 days ago when an injured Colt McCoy trotted off the field at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010. The Longhorns believed they were going to win their second national championship in four years that night, but that confidence evaporated in the first half when McCoy went down. Alabama rolled to a 37–21 victory and the first of Nick Saban’s six national championships with the Crimson Tide.
McCoy’s injury marked the beginning of the end for the Longhorns as title contenders. In the dozen seasons since, they’ve finished the year ranked higher than nineteenth in the Associated Press poll just once. They’ve churned through four head coaches and several strong recruiting classes in that span, but all they’ve accomplished is setting the college football standard for doing less with more.
With UT set to join the Southeastern Conference in the not-too-distant future, it was easy to predict a future in which playing against SEC teams week in and week out would reduce Texas to doormat status. Manning’s commitment is a huge step in another direction—and reason to hope that the turnaround won’t stop there.
His recruitment has been as low-key as possible, given Manning’s pedigree and talent. His Instagram account is private, and he has no name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals, according to ESPN. He announced his decision to attend Texas via his first and only tweet.
“He made this decision on his own,” Stewart, the high school coach, told ESPN. “I’m just happy he’s where he needs to be. He’s an eighteen-year old kid. There was a lot on his shoulders. Took his time and showed a lot of maturity.”
“I’m just so proud of him,” he added. “Hope he can rest and enjoy his senior year with his friends and take that next step. There’s a huge ceiling in front of him.”
Sarkisian retweeted Manning’s announcement, and he added another that repeats his UT mantra: “All Gas, No Brakes!!!”
Manning’s high school highlights are a breathtaking collection of rocket passes along with an easy-to-spot knack for making the right play at the right time. He has thrown for 5,731 yards and 72 touchdowns in his first three seasons at Isidore Newman.
Texas has not landed a recruit of this caliber since Vince Young. He was 30–2 as the Longhorns’ starter, and he helped UT to a Rose Bowl victory over USC for the 2005 national championship. When Texas stuffed a USC running play late in that game, every UT player had the same reaction: Vince is going to win this game for us.
After Young moved on to the pros, UT coach Mack Brown landed another cornerstone quarterback, the at-first unheralded McCoy, who won 45 of his 53 college starts. By the time Texas got back to the national championship game in 2010, McCoy’s teammates had every bit as much confidence in him as the previous batch of Longhorns had in Young.
That those two quarterbacks were 75–10 for Mack Brown’s teams—the coach was 83–38 with any other player under center—is an indication of how important the position is.
And that’s what makes Thursday such an important occasion around the Forty Acres. Arch Manning is a difference maker. For all those Texas fans who have had so little to cheer about in recent seasons, this is a time to celebrate and revel in the possibilities.