Arch Manning in Tim Tebow role? How Texas can maximize potential of star backup QB to fuel national title run

The lasting moment of Texas‘ season was not of beating Alabama, winning the Big 12 or producing Outland Trophy winner T’Vondre Sweat. Instead, it was a viral image of starting quarterback Quinn Ewers alone at an empty podium looking back at his backup, Arch Manning, surrounded by a mob of reporters ahead of the Longhorns’ first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff. 

Texas and the Manning family have done a sensational job of protecting Arch from what could be major distractions. He committed to the Longhorns with a simple tweet. When Ewers decided to return for a third season as the starter, Manning never flirted with the transfer portal. His only public NIL deal was a charity drive with Panini America, which also featured his only other tweets since committing. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian publicly named Ewers the starter heading into spring camp — there is zero open competition. 

Manning played only two games in his debut season and threw just five passes in a 57-7 win over Texas Tech. While Texas’ 2023 season was defined by protecting Manning during his redshirt season, 2024 is different. The Longhorns need to unleash him. 

Few quarterback rooms — if any — in the history of college football match the pedigree of the 2024 Texas room. Ewers and Manning each ranked No. 1 in their respective recruiting classes, becoming the first No. 1 overall quarterback recruits to play next to each other in the modern recruiting era. 

Ewers has lived up to the hype, throwing for 5,656 yards and 37 touchdowns in two seasons. During a run to the College Football Playoff, he completed 69% of his passes, averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and pushed his passer rating 25 points. He returns as potentially the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2025 NFL Draft

Still, production from the red-zone offense was one area in which the Big 12 champs struggled last season, ranking 90th nationally in scoring percentage and 120th in touchdown percentage. Manning’s versatility could play a part in improving those standings. 

Quarterback remains a difficult nut to crack for high-profile staffs. Only one player at a time takes the field, which leaves high-profile players on the bench. In that way, compiling riches at the quarterback position has diminishing returns. Sarkisian, one of the preeminent quarterback gurus in the sport, can try another way. 

Use Manning as a rushing complement

Manning is not a true dual-threat quarterback, preferring to deal from the pocket. Regardless, he boasts a more dynamic athletic profile than his famous uncles Peyton and Eli. 

“The thing about him that I think most people probably don’t give him enough credit for, he is a really good athlete,” Sarkisian told reporters. “He’s big, he’s strong and he’s fast. Sometimes he’ll lean into using his legs to create explosive plays … we like that, but we want that to almost be the last resort.” 

Manning was tracked at reaching a speed of 20 miles per hour in a scrimmage last August, Sarkisian said. That’s per Texas’ in-house tracking analytics, and if it’s close to accurate, would make Manning one of the fastest players on the entire team (Xavier Worthy was tracked as the fastest player in college football last fall at 22.7 MPH, per Reel Analytics). 

During his time at Isidore Newman (Louisiana) High School, Manning rarely shied away from taking advantage of defenders with his legs. In 43 games, Manning rushed for 1,155 yards and 25 touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. Against Texas Tech, Manning had a 12-yard run in his 23 snaps of action. 

The most successful two-quarterback system in recent memory featured Florida quarterbacks Chris Leak and five-star recruit Tim Tebow. Leak was a three-time All-SEC selection and former top recruit, but the bulldozing Tebow entered the lineup for key packages and red-zone situations. Tebow played a key role in Florida’s 2006 national championship, finishing second on the team in rushing attempts (89) and yards (469) as well as first in touchdowns (eight). Leak, for his part, still got plenty of burn; his 23 passing touchdowns were tied for 20th nationally.

Texas has one of college football’s best running back groups and does not need Manning to be Tebow in the way Florida might have needed Tebow. But Manning is already up to 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with room to grow during this summer’s offseason training

“He’s not typically known as a runner, but he has size and athleticism — that part of his game shouldn’t be quickly overlooked,” said 247Sports analyst Cooper Petagna, who scouted Manning in high school. “He’s probably not going to seek contact in the open field, but he’s gutsy. He has some nimbleness, too, from his days playing high school basketball that suggest he could be used situationally.” 

If the Leak-Tebow timeshare is too much for Sarkisian, then perhaps Manning could play a role more similar to the one Michigan quarterback Alex Orji played to JJ McCarthy in 2023. Orji often took running snaps in the middle of the field, eating up space. It was enough game action to get him prepared to be Michigan’s likely QB1 this fall (Texas and Michigan play in Week 2 in Ann Arbor, by the way). 

Manning is a better passer than Orji, too, and would give Sarkisian much more short-term arm upside to build passing concepts and counters off — a potential game-changer against SEC defenses and beyond. 

Give Ewers some insurance

Ewers ranks as a top three returning quarterback in college football, but his career has not always gone smoothly as he’s struggled to stay on the field. 

In 2022, Ewers took a big hit from Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner that knocked him out of a potential upset victory. Backup Hudson Card stepped into the starting lineup for three games. One year later, Ewers suffered another shoulder injury against Houston during a run. Maalik Murphy, who has since transferred to Duke, started two games. 

Of course, Manning will be waiting in the wings if Ewers gets hurt again. Still, Texas has a good excuse to limit Ewers’ snaps so he’s fresh for a potential College Football Playoff trip. 

The Longhorns’ schedule features a few bangers but plenty of fluff into the middle. Colorado State, UTSA and Louisiana-Monroe should be blowouts. Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Mississippi State will likely miss bowls. That leaves six games for Manning to play meaningful snaps and gain live ball experience, and Texas should push him into the lineup as much as possible. Even starting Manning against UTSA or ULM could be an interesting choice. A positive performance could bring some outside calls for Manning to start, but Sark can trust his mature quarterback room to shut out the noise. 

An important caveat here is that behind Ewers and Manning, Texas has just one other scholarship quarterback on the roster, true freshman Trey Owens. That’s not rare in the transfer portal era, but if Sarkisian had insurance for Ewers and Manning, perhaps he’d really warm up to going all-gas, no-brakes with our suggestion for Manning’s usage. 

“As fun as that might be just to get him involved in the game, I don’t see Sark ever doing it,” Jeff Howe of Horns247 said. “The run game is never going to be something he wants to come from his quarterbacks other than extending the play and the occasional scramble. Plus, the combination of Texas being so deep and talented at running back and the fact that Quinn has yet to make it through a full season healthy makes the risk far greater than the reward with Arch, who’s very realistically one play away from being the guy.

“Can you imagine the criticism raining down on Sark if something happened to Arch in a speciality package and then Quinn got hurt?” Howe added. 

With the most famous name in football, Manning had every excuse to turn his career into a circus. Instead, his quiet, workmanlike approach sets the tone. In Manning’s Class of 2023, five of the top eight players have already transferred. The other two — Tennessee‘s Nico Iamaleava and Oklahoma‘s Jackson Arnold — were gifted starting jobs heading into Year 2. Out of nine quarterbacks in the Top247, none returns to their team as a backup … except Manning. 

Now, Sarkisian needs to take his greatest advantage and leverage it into a national championship chase. As one of the best offensive coaches in the sport, he should have no shortage of ideas. 

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