All roads always lead back to the SEC.
Texas will still be part of the Big 12 when Arch Manning arrives on campus next year as maybe the most scrutinized young quarterback in college football history. The Longhorns should remain a member of the conference through the 2024 season before leaving for the SEC, along with rival Oklahoma.
A middle-of-the-road Big 12 team for more than a decade, Texas doesn’t have the recent pedigree to suggest the program can immediately contend for championships when facing off against Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and more.
But what Texas landed on Thursday is a commitment from a generational passer capable of putting the Longhorns back on the national map and easing the transition into the SEC’s weekly grind.
In a quarterback-driven sport and in an SEC rapidly becoming defined by quarterback play, Manning has the potential to change the equation across the board: for an offense long stuck in a desperate search for an elite passer; for second-year coach Steve Sarkisian, who now holds ultimate job security after a miserable debut season; and for Texas as a whole, which can develop Manning over his first two years and have him more than ready to lead the charge into a new conference.
For a program that has lost its way over and over again since losing to Alabama in the 2009 national championship game, Manning gives Texas the chance to reboot and refocus around a singular talent capable of meeting and exceeding the hype.
While following dozens of other recruiting wins under four different head coaches during this span, Thursday’s commitment feels like a watershed moment.
Suddenly, the thought of leaping right into the SEC seems less daunting and more promising for Sarkisian and the Longhorns.
The next two years will be crucial. From a development perspective, Manning must first win the starting job, expected to be held this season by five-star redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers. Sarkisian and his staff have to keep adding depth to a roster still playing catch-up to the top programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision — having Manning in the fold is expected to put UT in the running for the top signing class in this cycle.
The chance to gain experience against Texas Tech and Kansas State before leading the Longhorns into conference matchups against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide may be the best thing for Manning’s development.
By the 2025 season, he should be ready to take on not just the SEC but the spotlight that will come with competing with his own family history.
Uncles Peyton and Eli set school and conference records at Tennessee and Ole Miss, respectively. His namesake, grandfather Archie, also starred at Ole Miss and is one of the legendary figures in conference history.
It’s against this backdrop that Manning will walk into the SEC as a third-year quarterback. By that point, he may be viewed as the best quarterback in the SEC. He may be the top passer in the FBS. He may be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. He may be good enough to put UT on his shoulders and carry the Longhorns past Oklahoma and into competition for a New Year’s Six bowl.
He may also be a bust. He may never unseat Ewers as the Longhorns’ starter. He may never meet the hype as the No. 1 prospect in his recruiting class. That seems less likely given Manning’s ability and bloodlines.
The possibilities are almost endless. With two years to prepare for the move, Manning and the Longhorns could be more than ready for life in the nation’s best conference.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arch Manning commitment means Texas could take SEC by storm