Texas will have an open quarterback battle in spring camp as newcomer Arch Manning tries to unseat incumbent Quinn Ewers from the starting job. The battle of former five-star recruits makes for one of the most high-profile battles in recent years.
"I'm not worried about who's going to be on the cover of what magazine next week," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters after practice Monday. "I'm more focused on is each guy focusing on what they need to do to develop to be the best player that they can be? Quinn has an entire year of a head start, but I don't want to hold Arch back. I want to see how far he can take this thing and what it can look like."
Despite suffering a shoulder injury against Alabama in Week 2 last season, Ewers won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after completing 58% of his passes for 2,177 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Longhorns jumped from 5-7 to 8-5 under Ewers. However, Manning arrives to Austin as one of the most high-profile recruits in years and will get an immediate look for the starting gig. Redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy will also compete but could be limited in the spring while he continues to work through an ankle injury he sustained in high school.
Ironically, the same situation took place last year as Ewers competed with veteran Hudson Card for the starting job. Ewers ultimately won the open competition, which stretched into fall camp.
With the battle underway here in the early stages, here's how each quarterback can lock down the job.
How Manning can win the job
See the last name: Manning. The Manning family is the safest bet in football. Uncles Peyton and Eli Manning each won two Super Bowls at the NFL level and the Maxwell Award in college. Patriarch Archie Manning was the SEC Player of the Year in 1969 and had his No. 18 retired at Ole Miss. Now, Arch comes to campus as perhaps the most heralded of the group as not just the No. 1 overall recruit in this cycle but as one of the top recruits in history.
Manning was the first freshman quarterback to start at Isidore Newman (LA) in 40 years, so don't expect much fear. He went on to break every quarterback record set by his uncles at the school and ultimately threw for more than 8,500 yards and 100 touchdowns in four years. He was also a surprisingly versatile runner during his time at Newman.
"In addition to possessing all the physical tools desired at the quarterback position, Manning plays the game with exceptional intuition and awareness, showing the ability to command navigate the game at a very high level," 247Sports national recruiting analyst Cooper Petagna wrote of Manning. "Manning figures to be prepared to make an immediate impact at the next level."
The jump in competition will be steep as Manning played Louisiana private school ball, which is a far cry from the massive public school leagues Ewers starred in at Southlake (Texas) Carroll. But with quarterback tutelage that can only be learned through the first family of football, don't expect the transition to take long.
Getting his decision-making up to college standards will be the primary focus in spring camp. The longer the competition runs, the better for Manning.
How Ewers can win the job
College football fans have painfully short memories. Before Manning-palooza came to town, Ewers was the talk of the sport. Ewers actually joined Vince Young as the only quarterbacks to ever earn perfect 1.000 ratings from the 247Sports Composite ratings and had multi-million dollar NIL deals before stepping foot on a college campus.
Landing Ewers in 2022 as a transfer from Ohio State gave the Sarkisian era a fresh slate following an embarrassing 5-7 debut campaign, the first losing season by a first-year coach at Texas since Dana X. Bible in 1937. Ewers flashed his impressive potential in his first two Power Five starts, completing 68% of his passes for 820 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing three quarters of the Alabama game.
His finish to the season was admittedly brutal, but that's to be expected for a player who had not thrown a pass in two years with the shoulder injuries Ewers faced. Accuracy issues were a constant for Ewers in the latter half of the year, which was a stark difference from his high school and early college tape. If he is fully healthy, expect those to subside.
When Ewers is on, he is the prototypical quarterback. He has elite ball placement and the ability to adjust to pressure and throw on the run. If he can settle down and get the accuracy issues under control -- and if Texas can consistently find playmakers, which has been inconsistent during the Sarkisian era -- Ewers still has plenty of time to live up to his lofty hype.
What will happen?
Manning deserves all the attention he gets for being one of the top high school quarterback recruits of the past few years. However, throw out the idea that Manning's recruiting pedigree will earn him the job in practice -- Ewers' profile was even better.
Additionally, look at the best quarterbacks of the past several years. Heisman winner Caleb Williams started his career on the bench. Fellow Heisman winner Bryce Young threw just 22 passes as a true freshman behind Mac Jones. C.J. Stroud redshirted. Ewers redshirted at Ohio State before transferring. Even uncle Eli redshirted, while Peyton didn't take over until late in his freshman year.
In fact, no top quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings has won an opening day starting job since Josh Rosen at UCLA in 2015, and his career was ultimately derailed by waves of coordinator changes and injuries. There's little chance that the Manning family is interested in rushing Arch into a situation for which he is not prepared.
Quarterbacks often improve most between Years 1 and 2, and Ewers has a chance to do that after a year playing in Sarkisian's system. The flashes are there. Manning will provide some much-needed competition to push the young signal-caller, but expect Ewers to come out on top.
With Murphy also on campus, don't be shocked to see Manning ultimately play fewer than four games and take a redshirt. If all goes well, Ewers can build an NFL Draft resume in 2023 and Manning can lead the Longhorns into the SEC in 2024. Unless Manning flashes otherworldly preparedness, there's little reason to stray from the plan.