KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Steve Sarkisian has been here before. Not so much Kansas City where he flew into last Sunday to watch Texas in the Midwest Regional, but wherever he goes these days, Sark is back to being asked about what might be the nation's most notable quarterback battle.
Makes sense that a T-Mobile Center tunnel was a good place to kick off a conversation with the Texas coach. It was there he didn't have to sign autographs or take selfies. He could talk ball between hugging up Longhorns hoops coaches before their Elite Eight battle with Miami.
Sark knows what the world wants to know: Will incoming freshman Arch Manning or redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers lead one of the most-visible college franchises on the planet?
Not only that, the world wants to know everything …
- Does being from the first family of football -- there's that Manning surname -- translate to production even close to Arch's uncles and grandfather?
- Will Manning can live up to the comparisons at Texas? At various times, Arch was rated the No. 1 recruit in the country. The hype has at least set a high bar -- to be the next Colt McCoy or Vince Young.
- Is Ewers just a placeholder for the inevitable Manning Takeover? Ewers must improve on a somewhat-uneven first season at Texas. And what if he doesn't? He left Ohio State where C.J. Stroud was ascending following 2021 only to run into Manning in 2023. (Let's not forget Ewers was one of the first college athletes to sign an NIL deal worth $1 million.) Ewers will be draft eligible after the 2023 season.
- Will the result of this depth-chart skirmish lead Texas to finally turn the corner, or will it not lead to any change at all? There remains speculation that Manning will redshirt in 2023. He could play up to four games this fall and still do so.
"They're at different stages of their career, right?" Sarkisian told CBS Sports. "Quinn's been here for a year. He's played games; he's been in the system. What he's working on is different than what Arch has been working on. [Arch] has had six spring practices."
Manning wound up at Texas after one of the most high-profile recruiting processes in recent memory. But like we said, Sark has been here before -- in the middle of high-profile quarterback battles.
"I go way back to USC," said Sarkisian, who spent seven years as an offensive assistant in two separate stays with the Trojans. "There was a time we had Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart all in that room as the same time."
That was 2002, the year after Palmer had won the Heisman Trophy. Cassel never started at USC but spent 14 years in the NFL. Leinart won the Heisman in 2004.
Then, in 2017-18, Sark oversaw Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones in the same room at Alabama. That's not just three future starting NFL quarterbacks but three top-15 overall NFL Draft picks. Sarkisian became the full-time Bama offensive coordinator in 2019 with Tagovailoa and Jones still on the roster.
"It was a healthy room. It was a comfortable room," said Sark, who has coached three Heisman winners (Palmer, Leinart, Tagovailoa).
Texas fans would settle for anything close to that kind of comfort in this battle.
Still, freshmen will be freshmen. Ewers made headlines last year having his car towed during the season opener.
How’d I get towed during the game🤣— Quinn Ewers (@QuinnEwers) September 4, 2022
Manning recently joined the club losing his school ID card at least once (seemingly twice).
Arch Manning has been at the University of Texas for less than a week and already lost his ID card 😂— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 13, 2023
📸: @CFB_Hype pic.twitter.com/PSJcUcn8Vz
Welcome to Twitter shame, kid. At least we confirmed that Arch's full name is Archibald. (His grandfather is actually Elisha Archibald Manning III.)
"One of the misnomers is he's a robot," Sarkisian said of Arch. "He's not a robot. He's a great kid. Fun to be around. Loves football. But he's still a freshman. He can lose his ID twice the first couple of weeks of school. He can throw an interception in practice. It's not like, 'What's wrong with him?' He's a freshman."
Depending on Ewers' progress (or lack thereof), Manning may have time to develop at Texas. That's a rare luxury these days with the transfer portal closing in from all angles.
It's safe to say Orangebloods can't wait for the day Manning takes over. Nothing against Ewers, but that's the way it is from Division III to the NFL. The talented incoming guy always gets the shine. So, in a way, Ewers will be playing against his performance of last season as well as the promise of Manning.
This wasn't just a recruitment process for Texas, it was recruiting football royalty. Archie continues to be the conscience of the game as chairman of the National Football Foundation. Eli and Peyton have become brands unto themselves post-football.
The recruiting process was as much about Tennessee (Peyton's alma mater) and Ole Miss (Eli's school) not getting Arch as it was Texas getting him.
"Arch's parents handled it really well," Sarkisian said. "The family handled it really well. They did their due diligence. They saw the programs he was interested in. They narrowed it down. Never did I have to have a phone call with Peyton or Eli or Archie. It was about what Arch and the family, what he wanted to do and what was a good fit for him."
Bound up in this Gordian football Knot is whether Texas can improve upon an 8-5 record going into Sarkisian's third season. Gone are unanimous All-American and Doak Walker Award-winning running back Bijan Robinson. Ewers or Manning will profit from throwing to second All-Big 12 receiver Xavier Worthy.
Sark likes how the defense became more physical, but caught between the Longhorns' last year in the Big 12 and first year in the SEC (2025) is this position competition.
You shouldn't have to be told all of Texas' preseason projections begin at quarterback.
The reference point is 2005 when Texas won a national championship and Young became a legend. Besides that, it is 2009 when McCoy led the 'Horns to the BCS Championship Game. That's also the last year Texas won a conference title.
Whether those dates will be supplanted by a new history, we'll always have last June. It was during summer workouts that Sark got the call from Arch.
"'Coach, I'm coming to Texas, but I've got to go to a math tutor before I announce it,'" Sark recalled his new quarterback saying.
Sounds wholesome. Sounds perfect, actually. Now, can the quarterback play in general be elevated at Texas?
The coach has been here before in his career. Texas would like to go where it hasn't been for decades.