Breaking down where No. 1 recruit Arch Manning could attend college
It will likely be several months before Arch Manning, the top ranked player in the 2023 recruiting class, makes a decision about where he will play college football. Even if you take away the implications of his last name and the quarterbacking legacy he came from, any recruit of Manning's importance to fan bases and media members who want to interpret all signals as intent will have speculation and misinformation linked to his name.
However, at this point there is very little actual information from the Manning camp to suggest where the recruitment might end. Arch, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, spent the fall unofficially attending some of college football's top programs, but the family will play it close to the waistline. Arch doesn't do a lot of interviews or tease fan bases with social media posts. In fact, he doesn't even have public Twitter and Instagram accounts.
When talking to coaches and experts who have a keen sense of the recruiting landscape, you get the feeling that you're more likely to end up with one of the big brands that can win a national championship than with the school where you work most of the time Family ties. If Manning signs up next spring it will be a boon to the school that attracts him and will give him and the coaching staff time to get more blue chip players to play with him.
Here are the five schools Manning are most likely to land, in alphabetical order:
Arch Manning attended the Georgia-South Carolina game earlier this season.
The appeal of playing in Alabama should be obvious. Not only is the structure of the program closest to the NFL that can be found at the college level, the overall level of talent Nick Saban brings in each year means Manning is on an offensive with receivers, running backs, and linemen who are also approached the professionals.
As a guest on ManningCast for Monday Night Football, Saban appeared to be trying to get that message across to Arch by telling Peyton and Eli the story of Jalen Hurts, who was leaving Oklahoma for his final season .
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“He asked me where to go and I said, 'Who has the best players?' “Said Saban. “He said Oklahoma so I said that's where he should go. As a quarterback, it's really important to have good players around. "
Although Alabama didn't have a reputation for being a quarterback-centric offensive during the first part of Saban's tenure, it no longer does so after Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones set passing records and first-round draft picks. Bryce Young is on the same path and will qualify for the NFL draft in 2023 and open the starting job this fall. Manning would have no qualms about sitting behind a veteran or showing all his skills in this system.
The potential negative for Alabama is the inability to predict who the offensive coordinator will actually be in 2023 and beyond. With extensive NFL and college coaching experience, Bill O’Brien is overqualified to be an SEC offensive coordinator and it seems likely that he will get another head coaching appearance sooner rather than later.
A school where Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence won national titles will of course be attractive to any tall, mobile, and heavily armed quarterback. The proof of concept of what an elite gamer can do on this widespread offensive has been a given for nearly a decade, and Dabo Swinney has done a phenomenal job of maintaining an image for his program as a family-oriented, fun place to be. You can see why a close family like the Mannings might like this atmosphere.
Clemson was the first stop on Manning's tour in June after personal recruitment reopened after the COVID-19 hiatus. He attended Swinney's camp on the trip and had an extended dinner at the trainer's house, creating a bond that led many recruiting analysts to consider Clemson the early leader. Manning is scheduled to return to Clemson on October 30 for the Florida State game.
But Clemson's offensive battles this season could give the Mannings a break if this is the best situation right now. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has been criticized this year for failing to develop the system and stretching the defense vertically enough to open up some things in the game. Clemson's offensive line has been struggling lately and there could be some concerns about whether the Tigers will have enough manpower up front to protect Manning if he does decide to go there. Clemson had legitimate claims to be the new Wide Receiver U when it won national titles, but talent levels have undeniably plummeted in that position in recent years.
With the way they play and recruit, it feels like the Bulldogs are making the transition from "Alabama Lite" to a legitimate rival at the top of the SEC. What they haven't done yet, besides winning a national championship, is recruit and develop a blue chip quarterback.
The best quarterback contender to have been on Georgia's campus in the Kirby Smart era was Justin Fields, and he made the move to Ohio State after sitting behind Jake Fromm for a year and easily doing it in special packages designed for him has been used (or abused). But the way Georgia piles talent in every position these days is a huge benefit to Manning that he could step in and be the piece that solidifies a dynastic run.
There are many personal connections with the coaching staff that fuel Manning's keen interest in Georgia. Smart played Peyton in college and they are considered good friends. Matt Luke, the Bulldogs offensive line trainer, is an Ole Miss guy who goes way back with Archie and Eli. Will Muschamp also knows the family well. The Mannings are also believed to have great respect for the NFL-style offensive system that Georgia operates under Todd Monken, who was the NFL offensive coordinator for four years.
Arch was at Sanford Stadium on September 18 to watch the Bulldogs beat South Carolina 40:13.
One thing to watch out for in Georgia is the presence of Brock Vandagriff, a five-star quarterback who signed up this season and would appear as a junior and reigning starter during Manning's freshman season.
Sometime in late September, Lane Kiffin unfollowed everyone on Instagram except Manning. Though his number has grown to 50 these days, it was one of several gestures Kiffin made to show Manning where he is on Ole Miss' list of priorities. Last year, during a game that read "Manning 10/18", Kiffin wore a mask honoring Peyton and Eli's numbers. That year he begged her to bring the ManningCast to the Tennessee Ole Miss game. And this weekend against LSU, Ole is honoring Miss Eli with a jersey retirement ceremony and end zones painted with "MANNING" while Arch watches from the sidelines.
All of these would be important and smart things for Ole Miss to honor one of the best players in school history. But they certainly seem to have an additional meaning as Kiffin seeks to appeal to the sentimental side of the Mannings.
After all that has been said, Ole Miss could have an uphill battle. Not only is it that the Rebels are in a less competitive position compared to Alabama and Georgia, but there are some thoughts in the recruiting world that Arch would rather go his own way than build on a family heritage at the school, where his uncle and grandfather played.
But if there's one thing we know about Kiffin, he's going to do whatever he can to stay relevant in this recruitment, and his wide-open passing offensive will continue to deliver high-profile numbers that will keep any talented quarterback looking.
Arch Manning is known to have a strong affinity with Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, calling him a "coach freak" in an interview with 247 Sports earlier this year. In other interviews, he adds that he enjoys Sarkisian's relaxed recruiting style where he doesn't always try to sell hard.
Last Thursday, Sarkisian appeared at Manning's game against St. Charles Catholic. Manning then spent the weekend in Austin and made a second visit to Texas.
"He lit up and just said he had a great time," Isidore Newman manager Nelson Stewart told 247 Sports. “I think they did an excellent job building a relationship with him from the start. Coach Sark's direct involvement in his recruitment is very authentic and special. It's obvious he and Arch have a great connection. "
Texas would be a slightly different experience for Manning than the other schools at the top of his list. While football is obviously a big deal, the Texas campus is in the middle of a big city, and it might be a bit easier to fit in than some of the small college towns where eyes are always on the quarterback.
Although Sarkisian's offensive lived up to the hype in its first season - Texas ranks # 8 nationally at 41.6 points per game despite the overwhelming quarterback game - it will require multiple recruitment classes in which Sarkisian absolutely makes it to the Longhorns back to a talent level at which they can compete for national titles.
It's also unclear whether Manning would play in the Big 12 or the SEC if he went to Texas. As of now, Texas and Oklahoma are contractually bound to play in the Big 12 through the 2024 season, meaning Manning's first two college years would be there before joining the SEC as a junior. But an earlier exit could be negotiated, which could make Texas competitive right off the bat. Manning may not care about conference membership, but it is certainly an unknown factor to understand before choosing the Longhorns.
Despite growing up in New Orleans, neither Peyton nor Eli Manning seriously thought about playing at LSU. Under Ed Orgeron, the Tigers pushed hard to establish a relationship, but it didn't seem like they were at the top of Arch Manning's list. Now, with Orgeron's firing, the good news for LSU is that there will be enough time for a new coach to try that pitch again - but of course it depends on who the LSU is hiring.
Manning is believed to have a strong affinity with Stanford trainer David Shaw, and obviously there's a tradition of great quarterbacks there from Jim Plunkett to John Elway to Andrew Luck. But from a footballing perspective, Stanford is a very different experience than playing in crowded SEC stadiums.
Notre Dame might be a dark horse team on the list - can you think of a better combination of brands than the Mannings and the Fighting Irish? - while Virginia can take a look because his mother Ellen played volleyball there and his sister May is currently participating. Tennessee tried, but the instability of the program over the past few years makes the Vols a real long shot.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arch Manning is the most desirable recruit in years. Where will it land?
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