As much as I hate to add to the rat poison surrounding this Texas Longhorns quarterback room, there is a glaring factor requiring discussion. The game plan at quarterback for the 2022 and 2023 seasons certainly sound like a dream on paper — former consensus No. 1 prospect Quinn Ewers has a phenomenal redshirt sophomore year, leads Texas to 10-plus wins and a Big 12 championship and is drafted in the first round to the NFL, and then the prince of football royalty, former consensus No. 1 prospect Arch Manning, takes over the team next year.
It’s dream that first came into focus when Ewers transferred to the Forty Acres from Ohio State late in 2021 and Manning followed six months later by tweeting his commitment to Texas in a monumental coup for Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff, even if some national pundits struggled to imagine how Ewers and Manning could co-exist in the same position room given the transient nature of elite quarterbacks.
It was a bold plan and one with little margin for error or time for development.
After more than a decade of watching quarterbacks from Texas high schools win Heisman Trophys in Norman and elsewhere, Longhorn nation is certainly be ecstatic to see Sarkisian land two of the most exciting quarterback prospects the University of Texas has ever signed.
When Ewers decided to come to Texas in 2021, it was the most exciting thing to happen to Austin since Matthew McConaughey started going to games. A hometown kid from Southlake Carroll, the highest-rated high school quarterback recruit since Vince Young, a five-star 18-year old that would singlehandedly carry Texas out of the decade-long drought plaguing them since the departure of Mac Brown.
So imagine you are a 19-year-old Quinn Ewers. Your freshman year you were tasked with the job of resurrecting Texas football despite being buried on the depth chart at Ohio State while skipping your senior season of high school. You joined a second-year head coach coming off a five-win season over options all over the country because you grew up a Longhorn.
Injuries and inexperience resulted in a rookie year that did not meet your standards, your expectations, or the level of play you know you are capable of. Inconsistency plagued your promising rookie season. One week you go 21–of-31 passing for 289 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-point shutout against Oklahoma in the biggest game of the regular season. Two weeks later you go 19–of-49 passing with three interceptions in a loss against an unranked Oklahoma State.
By the end of the year your confidence was so low you could never develop any type of rhythm. The coaching staff turned you into a vending machine for Bijan Robinson handoffs. You finish 8–5 and drop one to the Washington Huskies in the Alamo Bowl.
But that was last year. You are still that guy. You are still the five-star recruit out of Southlake, Texas. You have a second year in the system, a full offseason, 10 returning starters on offense. This is the year you live up to the hype that plagued you a year before. You shave the mullet, drop 15-plus pounds, and dedicate your time in the film room for a breakout sophomore year.
Then a Manning joins the quarterback room.
I don’t care if you’re the reincarnation of Tom Brady, having a Manning behind you in the depth chart would have an effect on anyone.
Now, I’m not saying that Arch is gunning for Quinn’s spot this year — leave that to the elite clickbait artists. The coaching staff and the Manning family have been abundantly clear that the plan for Manning is to redshirt his freshman year to grow and mature as a young man and learn as much as he can before challenging for the starting role in 2024.
So 2023 is Quinn’s year, but let’s not sit here and act like having a Manning on the sideline has no effect on a 19-year old. No matter how well Ewers plays this year, this team belongs to Manning next year. On name value alone, the last name Manning is football royalty, and can all but guarantee a starting spot in 2024 on any team in the nation. Just like the eligibility clock is ticking for Ewers, it’s ticking for Manning, too.
Let’s not forget, at its core college football is a TV show, entertainment just like The Voice or the Kardashians. Just as we’ve seen Prime Time captivate the nation in Colorado, Arch Manning will do the same under center in Austin.
As if the pressure weren’t high enough for Ewers, the addition of Manning to this Texas quarterback room has completely turned this season into a contract year for the talented but sometimes unrefined sophomore.
Imagine you were the lead guitarist in a band and Eddie Van Halen’s son sat in the wings ready to replace you in a year.
There are limited possible conclusions to this season for Quinn Ewers — he plays phenomenal, is a Heisman candidate, leads the Longhorns to their lofty goals, and is drafted to the NFL or he struggles, Texas struggles, his draft stock falls, and he has to consider whether to enter the draft or the transfer portal for a second time.
To be honest, it doesn’t matter if Ewers is a better quarterback than Manning next year. With the last name Manning, Arch will start somewhere next year and there is no way Sarkisian and Texas can afford to deviate from the plan — the plan is the plan and with elite quarterbacks, there are exceptionally small margins to navigate those succession plans.
Quinn Ewers has unfortunately landed in one of the most difficult positions in all of college football after giving up his senior season of high school — he needs a season that turns his potential into production to maintain the draft stock created by his potential.
Vince Young looked like a bust until midway through his third season in college. Colt McCoy threw 18 interceptions in his third season in college. Quarterbacks are usually offered a three-year grace period to grow, mature, and develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback, a luxury not afforded to Quinn since he re-classified and Manning picked Texas.
Despite the situation that Ewers is in now, if there were ever a young man and a roster that could overcome these difficulties, it’s this one. On all three sides of the ball, this Longhorns team has shown they have the talent and ability to compete with any team in the nation. The problem lies in consistency, from all players, but mainly from Ewers himself. We know he has the ability — we’ve seen it. The issue is his ability to produce week in and week out.
“Coaches do not build culture — coaches have expectations and rules. The teams with a great culture are the ones who have a leadership group on that team where their standard is above the coaches expectations or rules,” Joel Klatt said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. We’ve seen Ewers step up to this task when he called a player’s-only meeting after the Alabama game. He knows more than anyone the pressure he is under to produce this season.
It’s a make-or-break year for the Texas kid, a contract year that will determine whether he’s future first-round NFL draft pick or whether the plan fell apart without accomplishing its first, incredibly important goal.
As Ewers has said in the past, “you can’t go broke taking a profit at quarterback.”
Despite an underwhelming performance from Ewers against Wyoming, he has control of this offense. As Texas continues to gel and improve as the year goes on, the hope is that the future for Ewers will continue to grow brighter.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Quinn.