Arch Manning isn’t coming to the SEC after all.

Well, let’s rephrase that.

Manning isn’t coming to the SEC until Texas does. The latest that’ll happen is in 2025, which would be the No. 1 recruit’s pre-draft season.

And the plot thickens.

Manning’s commitment to Texas on Thursday was a tough pill to swallow for the likes of Alabama and Georgia, both of which just hosted the ultimate SEC legacy recruit. Arch’s announcement unofficially means that he won’t follow in the footsteps of his dad (Cooper), his uncles (Peyton and Eli) or his grandpa (Archie) by picking an SEC school.

To some, Manning picking a program that went 5-7 last year is head-scratching. Then you factor in Texas not having a first-round offensive player since Vince Young and it’s even more perplexing.

But look beyond that and you’ll see that Manning’s commitment to the Longhorns made a whole lot of sense.

Let’s start with the obvious. Was this a “Texas vs. the SEC” thing? Probably not. If Manning’s main motivator for picking a college was simply avoiding a certain conference, why then would the majority of his 3 finalists have been from said conference?

That doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is the logic behind picking Steve Sarkisian’s program instead of Alabama or Georgia.

The timing is everything. I’ve maintained from the jump that no matter where Manning ends up, he’s likely going to enter a quarterback room wherein he has to beat out at least 1 older, former blue-chip quarterback recruit.

Remember what that would’ve looked like at Georgia.

Brock Vandagriff and Carson Beck aren’t going anywhere. They’re set to battle for the starting job next year when Stetson Bennett IV finally graduates (allegedly). Beck still has 4 years of eligibility left heading into 2022 because 2020 didn’t count against anyone and in 2021, he only appeared in 3 games. Vandagriff also has 4 years of eligibility left entering 2022.

On top of that, by next spring, Beck will have had 3 years in Todd Monken’s offense while Vandagriff will have had 2. That’s not even including Gunner Stockton, who just arrived in Athens in the spring. That’s an extremely daunting situation to walk into for a true freshman. That’s much different from just having to wait out a QB like Quinn Ewers, who will be entering his pre-draft season at Texas when Manning is a freshman in 2023.

Then when you remember that Kirby Smart has had more 5-star quarterbacks leave his program than anybody else has had join their program since 2016 and yeah, it’s fair to say nothing is guaranteed. Go ask Justin Fields, Jacob Eason and JT Daniels about that.

Speaking of guarantees, think about this angle. We heard throughout Manning’s recruitment that joining the right system and play-caller was going to be critical, and understandably so. Hence, which one of these scenarios seems most likely:

  • Option A) Bill O’Brien is still Alabama’s OC through 2025
  • Option B) Todd Monken is still Georgia’s OC through 2025
  • Option C) Steve Sarkisian is still Texas’ head coach through 2025

If we’re being honest, Option C is the most likely scenario.

Yes, again, I realize that Texas is 5-7 and the words “we’re baaaaaaaack” were said after a 4-loss season in 2018. But even in 2021, Texas put up a top-20 offense in Year 1 with Sarkisian. It wasn’t like he suddenly failed the second he stepped out of the friendly confines of Tuscaloosa.

That’s the other part worth remembering here. Yes, Alabama and Georgia can sell the idea of playing for a national title. But also think about what the Tide can pitch in terms of quarterback development. How many of those things could be credited to Sarkisian? Most of them. It was Sarkisian who left Alabama after leaving the 2 most prolific offenses in program history in 2019-20. That was with Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. Also remember that while O’Brien was the one calling plays for Bryce Young, it was Sarkisian who recruited the 5-star phenom and developed him as a true freshman.

Alabama’s depth chart doesn’t look as stacked as Georgia’s, but the timing wasn’t ideal there, either. Jalen Milroe, who has been getting rave reviews as a redshirt freshman, also enters 2022 with 4 years of eligibility remaining. That’s assuming Young is off to the NFL at season’s end. Milroe would’ve had a 2-year leg up on Manning in O’Brien’s offense. While I didn’t necessarily think the commitment of 2023 classmate Eli Holstein was a reason for Manning to not pursue Alabama (and vice versa), I do wonder about Milroe’s timeline and whether him potentially sticking around through 2024 could’ve impacted the Tide’s chances.

If Manning’s goal is to start in Year 2, he picked the perfect place. That opportunity is most likely at Texas with the way things set up with Ewers. Manning can theoretically start against Big 12 defenses in his first season as a starter — he’ll have a different reception playing against TCU than he would playing at Tennessee — and then move on to the big, bad SEC in his pre-draft season of 2025.

Get your popcorn ready for that. Texas in Year 1 in the SEC with Arch Manning as its starting quarterback listed as the No. 1 overall pick in every single way-too-early 2026 mock draft is … well, it’s something, alright.

Is it crazy to talk about a pre-draft season for someone who theoretically couldn’t sign an NFL contract for another 4 years? Probably. But not when you’re the No. 1 recruit with the last name “Manning.”

That’s why the Louisiana native was trending nationally on Twitter within minutes of his commitment. His announcement was his first and only tweet. He doesn’t follow anyone, he has never liked a tweet and he didn’t offer up anything more than the words “Committed to the University of Texas. #HookEm.”

Texas hooked perhaps its biggest recruit since Vince Young committed 20 years ago. Within 20 minutes, Young fired off a “HookEm!!” tweet that didn’t need any context. Manning will be welcomed with open arms to his new home in Austin.

As for the SEC?

Something tells me that’ll be a touch different.