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It will likely be several months before Arch Manning, the top-ranked player in the 2023 recruiting class, makes a decision about where he’ll play college football. Even taking away the implications of his last name and the quarterbacking legacy he comes from, any recruit of Manning’s significance will have speculation and misinformation attached to his name by fan bases and media members hungry to interpret all signals as intentions.
At this point, however, there’s very little actual information coming from the Manning camp to suggest where the recruitment could end. Arch, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, has spent the fall taking unofficial visits to some of the top programs in college football, but the family is going to play it close to the vest. Arch isn't doing a lot of interviews, and he isn’t teasing fan bases with social media posts. In fact, he doesn't even have public Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The feeling around the sport, in talking to coaches and experts who have a good sense of the recruiting landscape, is that he is more likely to land at one of the big brand names that can win a national championship rather than the school where he has the most family ties. If Manning commits next spring, it will be a boon for the school that lands him, giving him and the coaching staff time to attract more blue-chip players who will want to play with him.
Here are the five schools that seem most likely to land Manning, in alphabetical order:
The attraction to playing at Alabama should be obvious. Not only is the structure of the program the closest thing to the NFL you can find on the college level, the overall level of talent Nick Saban brings in every year means Manning would be playing in an offense with receivers, running backs and linemen who are also headed for the pros.
When Saban was a guest on the "Monday Night Football" ManningCast, it seemed like he was trying to get that message across to Arch when he told Peyton and Eli the story of Jalen Hurts transferring to Oklahoma for his final season.
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“He asked me where he should go, and I said, ‘Who has the best players?' ” Saban said. “He said Oklahoma, so I said that’s where he should go. As a quarterback, it’s really important you have good players around you.”
Though Alabama didn’t have the reputation of being a quarterback-centric offense in the first part of Saban’s tenure, that’s no longer the case after Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones set passing records and became first-round draft picks. Bryce Young is on the same path, and he’ll be eligible for the NFL draft in 2023, opening up the starting job that fall. For Manning, there would be no concern about having to sit behind a veteran or being able to show his full skill-set in that system.
The potential negative to Alabama is the inability to project who the offensive coordinator will actually be in 2023 and beyond. With his vast NFL and college coaching experience, Bill O’Brien is overqualified to be an SEC offensive coordinator, and it seems likely he will get another head coaching gig sooner rather than later.
A school where Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence won national titles is naturally going to be attractive to any big, mobile, strong-armed quarterback. The proof of concept for what an elite player can do in that spread offense has been self-evident for nearly a decade, and Dabo Swinney has done a phenomenal job cultivating an image of his program as a family oriented, fun place to play. You can see why that atmosphere might appeal to a tight-knit family like the Mannings.
Clemson was the first stop on Manning’s tour in June after in-person recruiting opened up again following the COVID-19 pause. He participated in Swinney’s camp on the trip and had a lengthy dinner at the coach’s house, building a bond that had many recruiting analysts considering Clemson the early leader. Manning is supposed to come back to Clemson for the Florida State game on Oct. 30.
But Clemson’s offensive struggles this season could give the Mannings some pause about whether it’s the best situation right now. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has come under criticism this year for not evolving the system and not stretching defenses vertically enough to open up some things in the running game. Clemson's offensive line has struggled of late, and there could be some concern about whether the Tigers will have good enough personnel up front to protect Manning if he chooses to go there. Clemson had a legitimate claim to call itself the new “Wide Receiver U” when it was winning national titles, but the talent level has undeniably dropped off at that position over the last couple of years.
With the way they’re playing and recruiting, 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 win a national championship, is recruit and develop a blue-chip quarterback.
The best quarterback prospect who’s been on Georgia’s campus in the Kirby Smart era was Justin Fields, and he transferred to Ohio State after one year of sitting behind Jake Fromm and being lightly used (or misused) in special packages designed for him to run. But the way Georgia is stacking talent at every position these days, it's a great pitch to Manning that he could come in and be the piece that cements a dynastic run.
There are a lot of personal connections with the coaching staff fueling Manning's close interest in Georgia. Smart played against Peyton in college, and they are considered good friends. Matt Luke, the Bulldogs' offensive line coach, is an Ole Miss guy who goes way back with Archie and Eli. The family also knows Will Muschamp well. The Mannings are also thought to have a lot of respect for the NFL-style offensive system Georgia is running under Todd Monken, who was an NFL offensive coordinator for four years.
Arch was in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 18 to watch the Bulldogs beat South Carolina 40-13.
One thing to monitor at Georgia is the presence of Brock Vandagriff, a five-star quarterback who enrolled this season and would project to be a junior and incumbent starter during Manning’s freshman season.
At one point in late September, Lane Kiffin unfollowed everyone on Instagram except Manning. Though his count has grown to 50 these days, it was one of several gestures Kiffin has made to show Manning where he stands on the list of Ole Miss’ priorities. Last year, Kiffin wore a mask during a game that said “Manning 10/18” honoring the numbers of Peyton and Archie. This year, he implored them to bring the ManningCast to the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. And this weekend against LSU, Ole Miss is honoring Eli with a jersey retirement ceremony and end zones with "MANNING" painted in them while Arch watches from the sideline.
These would all be important and smart things to do for Ole Miss to honor one of the best players in school history. But they certainly seem to carry some extra significance as Kiffin tries to appeal to the Mannings' sentimental side.
With all that said, Ole Miss might have an uphill battle. It’s not just that the Rebels are in a less favorable position competitively relative to Alabama and Georgia, but there’s some thought in the recruiting world that Arch might like to blaze his own trail rather than build on a family legacy at the school where his uncle and grandfather played.
But if there’s one thing we know about Kiffin, he’ll do anything he can to stay relevant in this recruitment, and his wide-open passing offense is going to continue putting up eye-popping numbers that would make any talented quarterback take a long look.
Arch Manning is known to have a strong affinity for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, calling him “a freak of a coach” during an interview this spring with 247 Sports. He’s added in other interviews that he enjoys Sarkisian’s laid-back recruiting style where he’s not always trying to make the hard sell.
Last Thursday, Sarkisian showed up at Manning’s game against St. Charles Catholic. After that, Manning spent the weekend in Austin, making a second visit to Texas.
“He lit up and just said he had a great time,” Isidore Newman coach Nelson Stewart told 247 Sports. “I think they have done an outstanding job establishing a relationship with him from the start. Coach Sark’s direct involvement in his recruitment comes across as very authentic and special. It’s obvious Arch and him have a great connection.”
Texas would be a bit of a different experience for Manning than the other schools at the top of his list. While football is obviously a huge deal, the Texas campus is in the middle of a major city, and it might be a bit easier to blend in there than some of the small college towns where eyes are on the starting quarterback at all times.
Though Sarkisian’s offense has lived up to the hype in his first season — Texas is No. 8 nationally at 41.6 points per game despite underwhelming quarterback play — it’s going to take multiple recruiting classes where Sarkisian absolutely nails it to get the Longhorns back to a talent level where they can compete for national titles.
It’s also unclear whether Manning would be playing in the Big 12 or the SEC if he goes to Texas. As of now, Texas and Oklahoma are contractually obligated to play in the Big 12 through the 2024 season, meaning Manning’s first two college years would be there before moving to the SEC as a junior. But an earlier exit could be negotiated, which might not be great for Texas competitively right off the bat. Manning may not care about conference affiliation, but it’s certainly an unknown factor that must be understood before choosing the Longhorns.
Despite growing up in New Orleans, neither Peyton nor Eli Manning seriously considered playing at LSU. Under Ed Orgeron, the Tigers made a strong push to build a relationship, but it did not seem like they were trending toward the top of Arch Manning’s list. With Orgeron’s firing, the good news for LSU now is that there will be enough time for a new coach to come in and try to make that pitch once again — but obviously, it depends on whom LSU hires.
Manning is believed to have a strong affinity for Stanford coach David Shaw, and obviously there’s a tradition of great quarterbacks there, from Jim Plunkett to John Elway to Andrew Luck. But from a football standpoint, Stanford is a much different experience than playing in packed SEC stadiums.
Notre Dame could be a dark-horse team on the list — can you imagine a better marrying of brands than the Mannings and the Fighting Irish? — while Virginia may get a look because his mother, Ellen, played volleyball there and his sister, May, currently attends. Tennessee has tried, but the program's instability over the last several years makes the Vols a real long shot.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arch Manning is most-coveted recruit in years. Where will he land?