Imagine being Arch Manning.

I know. That’s basically impossible.

Well, it’s possible if you somehow were raised in one of the most famous families in American sports and you’ve been heralded as the next great athlete at the most high-profile position in that sport. If that’s you, cheers. This will come easy.

For the rest of us, we don’t have the slightest clue what it’s like to be Arch. Any sort of hypotheticals laid out here today will be fully cognizant of that.

The grandson of Archie, the nephew of Peyton and Eli and the son of Cooper has a massive decision ahead. You know, in case you haven’t heard. Given his name, his No. 1 ranking and his NIL potential, Arch Manning’s college announcement will be unlike any in recent memory in the sport. Who, what, when, where and why are all still to be determined.

It does, however, start to feel like it’s Texas vs. the SEC. Well, at least pre-SEC Texas vs. the current SEC.

For now, let’s assume that any reference to an SEC team in Manning’s recruitment is either Alabama, Georgia or Ole Miss. He visited all 3 already, in addition to Texas and several others. While Manning is reportedly set to also visit the likes of Florida and LSU, for now, let’s put them on the back burner. That’d be some incredible ground to make up for a Year 1 coach.

If you were making Manning’s pros and cons list for avoiding the SEC and picking Texas, it would be extensive. I suppose picking Texas technically wouldn’t be avoiding the SEC because as it stands, the Longhorns will join the SEC officially on July 1, 2025. That would be just ahead of Manning’s pre-draft season, or at least in terms of when he’d be eligible.

That in itself would be a fascinating storyline. Whether Manning starts both of his first 2 seasons or not at a place like Texas, we’d then get his pre-draft year storyline of “well, now he has to face real defenses in the SEC.” The irony is that the Big 12 might have the 2 of the best 3 or 4 defensive minds in the sport with Dave Aranda and new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables.

Could that be a potential hiccup for Manning? It shouldn’t be. He’s already going to be as scrutinized as any player in recent memory. No matter what conference he’s playing in entering his pre-draft season, he should already be well-versed in handling millions of people dissecting his every move.

The biggest potential hiccup with Texas is, well, Texas. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive player drafted in the first round since Vince Young in 2006.

Let me repeat that because I feel like it often gets lost in the shuffle of what Steve Sarkisian is attempting to rebuild.

The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive player drafted in the first round since Vince Young in 2006.

That’s daunting. Now it’s possible that Bijan Robinson changes that next year or perhaps Quinn Ewers changes that in 2024. Of course, Manning’s commitment will have to come before either of those things happen.

Compare that to Alabama, which had 5 receivers come off the board in the first round of the past 3 drafts alone (2020-22). Of course, the argument is that all but 1 of those guys played in, ironically enough, Sarkisian’s offense. But it’s not like Bill O’Brien’s offense fell off the face of the earth once Sarkisian left. He helped Bryce Young become the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Texas hasn’t had a top-5 finisher in the Heisman since Colt McCoy in 2009.

You could go the other way with that and argue that makes Texas more attractive. The program more known for its quarterback whiffs in the last decade — Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel all grew up in the Lone Star State and didn’t pick Texas — can change that narrative with a savior like Manning. If Manning goes to Alabama, the standard is Young, Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, all of whom finished at least top 3 in the Heisman race and started in a national championship game.

Was that a Sarkisian thing? Or was that an Alabama thing? It was Sarkisian who helped get Young to Tuscaloosa, too.

If Manning chooses Alabama, there’s a strong chance that he’d never share a quarterback room with Young. Manning could compete for the open starting job as a true freshman, whereas Texas is expected to have a pre-draft Ewers as the guy heading into 2023.

Then again, predicting quarterback depth charts years in advance has proven to be a crapshoot in the past decade. Take Georgia, for example. At this time 2 years ago, the perceived QB depth chart was:

  • QB1: Jamie Newman
  • QB2: JT Daniels
  • QB3: D’Wan Mathis
  • QB4: Carson Beck
  • QB5: Stetson Bennett IV

What does the Georgia QB room look like a year from now? Or 2 years from now? I couldn’t tell you. At this time last year, I assumed that 3 quarterbacks on Georgia’s roster were ahead of Bennett, and of course, the former walk-on ended the 1980 jokes.

It’s not breaking news to say that Smart doesn’t show preferential treatment to 5-star quarterbacks after he signs them. Nobody has signed more 5-star quarterbacks than Georgia since 2016, yet UGA has lost as many former 5-star quarterback recruits via transfer (3) as any other program has gained during that timeframe.

5-star UGA QB
1st verbal pledge
Team signed with
Ended college career
Jacob Eason (2016)
Justin Fields (2018)
Penn State
Ohio State
JT Daniels (2020)
USC (transfer to UGA)
West Virginia
Brock Vandagriff (2021)

Of those 81 games of the Smart era, only 20 were started by 1 of his former 5-star quarterbacks. Take away Eason starting 12 of 13 games in Smart’s first season and that number is just 8 of the 68 games since the start of 2017.

Also working against Georgia? The Dawgs haven’t had a quarterback drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2009 and they haven’t had a top-40 passing offense in the post-Aaron Murray era (he last played in 2013). Just for a little perspective, 11 of 14 SEC programs have had a QB drafted in the first 4 rounds or a top-40 passing offense since 2016 (Kentucky and Vandy are the other 2 that haven’t hit either mark).

Any list of Georgia “cons” has to include that for Manning. The pros are obvious. Smart is set to compete for national titles and perhaps be the team of the 2020s. There will never be a shortage of talent on that offense, both in terms of pass-protectors and skill players. Todd Monken’s offense just guided Bennett to a title, so imagine what it could do with a more talented passer.

But if I’m Manning, the bad outweighs the good with Georgia. Even if I believe in the Monken offense, I can’t trust that Smart will have faith in my development once I walk in the door. If we count Bennett’s JUCO hiatus, Smart’s only quarterback to start and finish his career in Athens was Fromm. That’s too risky.

What about Ole Miss? Wouldn’t it be a dream scenario to play quarterback for Lane Kiffin? It would. Kiffin cranks out all-conference quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes. In this era of high volume passing offenses, Manning could shatter the school records set by his uncle and grandpa, and ultimately, he could have his number retired just like them. Arch witnessed firsthand what it was like to watch Ole Miss retire Eli’s number this past fall against LSU.

You could make the case that Manning is going to face comps to his ancestors no matter where he goes. Sure, they’ll be magnified at Ole Miss. But it’s not like we’re suddenly going to forget his last name if he goes to Texas.

The bigger issue is if Manning’s bucket list includes winning a national title, Ole Miss isn’t the place to make that happen. Ole Miss didn’t even crack the top 25 in the 247sports talent composite index last year (remember that 2016 Clemson was the lone team to rank outside of the top 6 and win it all in the Playoff era … and the Tigers were No. 9 with Deshaun Watson). Even if Kiffin continues to improve recruiting high school players and transfers in Oxford, Ole Miss is still a long way from reaching that type of championship-level roster talent.

Texas, because of its ability to sign a top-5 class, doesn’t have that type of ceiling. Fresh off their No. 5 class in 2022, the Longhorns are expected to crack the top 10 in the 247sports talent composite after ranking No. 11 in that department last year.

I know, I know. Texas was 5-7 last year. Sarkisian’s passing offense finished in the bottom half of FBS. If it were Year 3, that’d be a bigger red flag. It wasn’t, though. It was Year 1. His team still put up a top-20 scoring offense in FBS. If Manning believes in Sarkisian as an offensive mind, Texas should be the choice.

This shouldn’t just be about NIL, which college town is the most fun or where the most favorable defenses are going to be. It shouldn’t just be about assistants, either. Coordinators are fleeting. Will O’Brien or Monken be at their respective schools 2 years from now? We don’t know. I’d have more confidence in Sarkisian staying at Texas compared to a pair of coordinators who could have head coaching opportunities in their future.

Then again, if I’m going to Alabama, I have all the faith in the world that Nick Saban is making the best hire possible if he needs to replace O’Brien. This is the program that had top-7 passing offenses in each of the past 4 seasons, and that was with 3 different offensive coordinators and 3 different starting quarterbacks.

That’s why the Manning decision shouldn’t be Texas vs. the SEC; it should just be Texas vs. Alabama.

It wouldn’t be surprising if that’s who it came down to. If and when that happens, it’ll be a new chapter in the book of Manning.

Something tells me it’ll have plenty of eyeballs glued to it.