The following is part of a 10-part series, wherein I (Connor O’Gara) outline 10 chaos scenarios for the 2024 college football season. These are not predictions. These are, however, things that could happen that would create a significant ripple effect in the sport.

What is chaos, you ask? Last year, Texas beating Alabama caused chaos because it was the preamble for Texas’ return to the national spotlight while the Tide had “sky is falling” energy that prompted a QB change and a discussion about Nick Saban’s future. Saban’s retirement was also chaos because it prompted 4 FBS coaching vacancies, as well as raises for coaches who were reportedly targeted as his successor.

Chaos can come in non-Saban ways, too. Florida State getting left out of the Playoff as a 13-0 Power 5 champion was chaos, as was Deion Sanders beating defending national title runner-up TCU in his Colorado debut. Chaos can come in a variety of forms.

So far, we did:

Today is the sixth installment of the 10-part series for 2024 …

Please don’t mistake what I’m about to say as 1 of 2 things.

Please don’t assume that I mean any disrespect to Hudson Card or Maalik Murphy, both of whom are now starting quarterbacks at power conference programs. But there would be more eyeballs on Arch Manning as Texas’ starting quarterback compared to both of them combined.

Please don’t assume that I’m rooting for Quinn Ewers to get hurt. I’ve been somewhat enamored by Ewers’ talent since I saw his high school highlights (and I’m usually not that guy). In an ideal world, he’s playing every meaningful snap for a Texas team that lights up scoreboards all season.

But let’s address the elephant in the room and why it’s loaded with chaos potential. Ewers missed multiple games due to injury in each of his first 2 seasons as Texas’ starter. His well-documented weight loss prior to 2023 would suggest he won’t be showing up to Texas’ 2024 opener as a 230-pound piece of iron.

Ewers getting hurt this season means that Manning’s time has come.

Don’t get it twisted. That’s not my way of saying that we’re destined to have some sort of 2017 Jacob Eason-Jake Fromm situation where the younger signal-caller supplants the elder quarterback who never gets his job back. Ewers is a 2-time starter who just led Texas to its best season in 14 years. The guy is a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite after he took a monumental step in 2023. That’s different than Eason, who flashed potential but mostly took his lumps as a true freshman with limited pass-catching weapons in Year 1 of the Kirby Smart era.

This is chaos because everything Manning does is chaos. Even when he opts not to participate in a video game, it’s chaos for those of us in the content business.

The irony is that so far, Manning has done everything possible to eliminate chaos. His most chaotic moment in burnt orange might’ve come a month ago in Texas’ spring game, which he took over after earning praise from Steve Sarkisian all spring. That’s a continuation from the Sugar Bowl when Murphy wasn’t available and Manning was slotted into the backup role. Any time Ewers came up slow prompted a camera shot to Manning.

So yeah, we know that Manning playing meaningful snaps for the first time will be the new equivalent of “Alabama’s trailing in the second half.” That draws a national audience. Period.

How Manning looks as a college starter and if there’s a drop-off without Ewers is the micro chaos angle.

The macro chaos angle is related to Texas and its pursuit of a national title. Let’s remember that while the Longhorns are entering the SEC, its schedule is as favorable as it gets. The only true road game in the SEC until mid-November is at Vanderbilt. That’s the good news. Plus, there’s more grace than ever in the 12-team Playoff era. The race for 10 wins will be everything for power conference teams.

That doesn’t mean Texas has a cakewalk to the 12-team Playoff, especially if Ewers goes down at the wrong time. What if he gets hurt in the Mississippi State game in late September? Next up is a bye week, then Oklahoma and Georgia. If the Longhorns have 2 losses with 5 SEC games left on the schedule, that’s chaos. That’s a preseason national championship contender who is suddenly right on the 12-team Playoff bubble.

Alternatively, picture the conversation surrounding Manning if he impresses in a victory against Oklahoma and/or Georgia. Then we’re back to the debate about whether Manning needs to hold onto the starting job. Unless Ewers regresses, it’s hard to imagine that debate favoring Manning. Of course, the chaos crowd doesn’t care about sensible logic. It cares about storylines.

There’s another storyline that’s perhaps not so much chaos-based as it is macro-level thinking for Texas’ future. If Ewers goes down, could Texas see an all-important championship window close? There’d be major resistance to that notion from the pro-Sarkisian crowd, which I’d like to think that I’m part of. But winning a title is incredibly difficult, and so much of it comes down to getting the right breaks.

Texas is living proof of that. So, too, is Florida State. Sure, you can be a Mike Norvell fan. But what if 2 or 3 years from now, FSU fails to reach the semifinal round and we look back on 2023 and wonder if the window closed with Jordan Travis’ injury? That’s possible. Even at a place that recruits like Texas, 2024 may be part of an all-important championship window that Sarkisian needs to capitalize on.

Time will tell if that happens with a healthy Ewers. Perhaps time will tell if it happens with a healthy Manning.

For now, all we know is that the only thing that can delay Arch Madness is a healthy Ewers.

Chaos scenario No. 7 will publish next week. To spoil all 10 chaos scenarios for yourself, watch the full breakdown, as discussed on The Saturday Down South Podcast.