One of the most storied programs in college football history is the Texas Longhorns. However, the program hasn't had as much success as the brand suggests.
The last time they won a national championship was during the 2005-06 season, when they beat the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. They next appeared in the BCS National Championship game in 2009 but lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Moving off of the national championship qualifier, they won their last bowl game in 2020 at the Alamo Bowl. Since 2009, they've had one double-digit winning season.
Last season, they went 8-5 and were 6-3 in conference play. Their starting quarterback was Quinn Ewers, who as a freshman played in 10 games and completed less than 60% of his passes.
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the Longhorns will have a player by the name of Arch Manning on their roster. Manning — yes, those Mannings — is the nephew of former NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning. He's one of the most highly touted quarterback recruits, but does that warrant him getting the starting nod in his freshman season ahead of Ewers?
"I'm not worried about who's going to be on the cover of what magazine next week," head coach Steve Sarkisian was quoted saying ahead of their first spring practice. "I'm more focused on is, 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."
Sark makes it clear that Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning will have a QB competition starting TODAY, at spring practice. pic.twitter.com/beHSwbUNDE
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) March 6, 2023
So, yeah, the position is up for grabs.
Below, we'll make a case for each player and ultimately choose who we'd side with.
The Case for Quinn Ewers
As mentioned, Ewers was a true freshman last season. He started the first two games of the season against Louisiana Monroe and Alabama but missed the next three games with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
He came back against Oklahoma and was fantastic, completing 67.7% of his passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. This was an impressive performance, but Oklahoma's defense was, well, not good (for lack of a more fitting phrase).
From there, he had two games with more than one touchdown pass and had some poor performances against TCU and Oklahoma State.
Against Oklahoma State, Ewers had over 300 yards passing but threw three interceptions.
While he had just six interceptions all year, he had 12 turnover-worthy plays, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also notes that, under pressure, Ewers completed just 43.1% of his plays for 377 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
In his true freshman season, Ewers showed flashes that could be promising if he were to start another year. We also have to remember that the Longhorns haven't exactly had a great roster and relied a lot on running back Bijan Robinson, who's now gone on to the NFL.
Ewers finished the year with 2,177 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns and six interceptions, and he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
The Case for Arch Manning
In the ESPN 300, Manning ranked as the No. 5 guy in the 2023 edition, while 247Sports rated him the No. 1 overall player.
Coming out of high school in Louisiana, Manning finished his high school career with a 64.5% completion rate, 115 passing touchdowns, 19 rushing touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He threw just two interceptions in his senior season.
According to his Texas Longhorns bio, he's listed at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, and Ewers at 6-foot-2 but weighs 204 pounds. It's safe to assume that Manning will likely bulk up some more before the start of the season.
The mystique of the Manning "presence" is certainly something that would be desirable for the program as a whole and surely draw more national attention. But if we go off Sarkisian's quotes, that's not really something he's personally concerned with.
Manning, by all accounts, has the mental makeup and maturity to be the starter, but coming from high school to a Power Five conference will naturally present challenges for anyone.
Arch Manning mania has arrived in Austin. pic.twitter.com/yOpChrLYwY
— Chris Paavola (@chris_paavola) March 6, 2023
Predicting Longhorns Week 1 Starter
The Longhorns start the 2023-24 season at home against Rice, a game that's essentially a guaranteed win.
After that, though, they travel to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide, who's not projected to be the same juggernaut we've become accustomed to since quarterback Bryce Young headed to the NFL.
Ewers did play against them last year but was injured. Before leaving with his injury, Ewers was playing well. He completed nine of 12 passes for 134 yards, averaging 11.2 yards per attempt.
Considering Ewers has a year's head start of experience, and the Longhorns play Alabama within the first two games, this is a spot for Ewers to start the season. That said, Ewers will be on a short leash if he can't improve the passing attack from his appearances last year.
He beat up Oklahoma, but they had one of the worst defenses in college football. If Ewers performs poorly against a lesser Alabama squad in Week 2, that could be all it takes for Sarkisian to bench him in favor of Manning.
So, to wrap it up, Ewers starts the season but doesn't have many chances to mess up.
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