A year ago at this time, the Oklahoma football program had two quarterbacks on its roster who were ranked five-star prospects and the No. 1 QBs in their respective recruiting grades.
That should be the Sooners’ ticket to a return to the top of the college football world. After all, OU has previously played in three consecutive college football playoffs Spencer Rattler became the 2020 Sooner starter at quarterback and Caleb Williams Another national phenomenon came the following year. The Sooners also had signed one of the top-rated QB recruits in the country for 2023.
None of the Sooner quarterbacks who preceded Rattler and Williams – Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen hurts – Scored better than fifth best in the class graduating from high school and before they got to OU. And yet everything was going pretty well for Oklahoma despite not coming out of the CFP semifinal round.
Oklahoma faced a quarterback dilemma last season, and we all know how that ultimately turned out. Neither Rattler nor Williams are still at OU, and the Sooners also lost the engagement of No. 1 QB recruit Malachi Nelson, who chose to break away from Oklahoma when he retired Lincoln Riley went to USC and followed the former Sooner head coach to his new destination. Frankly, it didn’t hurt that Nelson was from the West Coast.
Williams is now at USC too, but Rattler decided to go in a different direction and moved to South Carolina, where he was reunited with former OU Special Teams coach Shane Beamer.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up is the news coming out of Austin, Texas this week that Arch Manning, the top-rated QB recruit for 2023, has signed on to play college football in Texas. The Longhorns already have the nation’s top QB prospect from the Class of 2022, Quinn Evers, on their list. Evers was originally committed to the state of Ohio. Evers was ranked as the top rated QB prospect and #1 national recruit by 247Sports.
Manning, the grandson and namesake of former NFL star Archie and nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, will not come to Texas for another season and is believed to support Evers in 2023.
Late last year there was a wave of concern across the Sooner Nation when Texas managed to lure Evers out of Ohio State and sign with the Longhorns. Texas has now signed its second-highest-rated quarterback in six months, beating the likes of Nick Saban at Alabama, Kirby Smart at Georgia, and grandfather Archie and Eli’s alma mater at Ole Miss (where Arch’s father Cooper also attended) for the services of the next generation by Manning Quarterbacks.
It’s safe to assume that this week’s Manning news has prompted a fresh round of raised eyebrows among Sooner football fans, wondering if this is the final piece of the puzzle in the Longhorns’ decade-long quest to return to relevance and the top Level is the college football hierarchy. And if so, what does this mean for Oklahoma football and the dominance of the Sooners’ Big 12 in recent seasons?
It is worth noting that Oklahoma made a scholarship offer to Arch Manning prior to Lincoln Riley’s departure, and that offer was confirmed as the new head coach Brent Venables came on board along with the offensive coordinator Jeff Lebbywho was in the same position at Ole Miss before joining OU and has kept an eye on Manning throughout his time in Mississippi.
The fact that young Manning chose Texas over a number of other high-profile programs shouldn’t come as such a shock. Texas, with one of the biggest names and biggest budgets in college sports, has always done well recruiting some of the best soccer talent in the country. The Longhorns’ football recruiting classes have consistently finished in the top 10 or 20 in the country. The problem is that the Texas football program hasn’t had much to show for more than a decade on the field.
We all know that championship football begins with outstanding play and leadership at the quarterback position. That’s not to say you can’t win without a highly talented quarterback, but it’s pretty well documented that the very best teams of any season are the ones with the best quarterbacks.
The Longhorns have had highly rated players at the quarterback position before, even the nation’s top QB recruits, but it wasn’t without unexpected bumps along the way. Chris Sims was the country’s No. 1 QB candidate, coming out of his high school in New Jersey in 1999. He starred behind Major Applewhite in his freshman year at UT, but rose to the lead role in 2000.
The three seasons that Sims started as quarterback for Texas the Longhorns were 31-7 overall and 20-4 in the Big 12, but they never won the Big 12 and never defeated the Sooners.
On his radio show on Sports Radio 1400 “The Ref” a week ago, former Sooner All-American Teddy Lehman said the following about Sims while he was in Texas:
“He was great except against OU where he was terrible.”
The Sooners defeated Texas in the Red River Rivalry three years in a row. Sims was a quarterback at Texas: 63-14 in 2000, 14-3 in 2001, and 35-24 in 2002
The Texan quarterback that followed Sims was pretty good too. Vince Young was the country’s top-scoring candidate for that position in 2002. In 2003, he took the starting role and led the Longhorns to a national championship in 2005, defeating the defending champion’s USC team featuring Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
Texas was 34-4 with Young as a starter and 22-2 in the Big 12. But again, the Longhorns struggled against the Sooners. OU won two of the three Red River games when Young was the starter. The Sooners won 65-13 in Young’s first season in the QB starting role in 2003 and 12-0 the following season. Jason White was the OU quarterback in both 2003 and 2004. Texas finally beat OU 45-12 in 2005, the year the Longhorns won the national title.
In the six seasons that Sims and Young were quarterbacks for the Longhorns, Oklahoma won the Divisional Championship four times and the Conference Championship three times.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit called Manning’s future addition huge for Texas.
“It’s big because not only are you getting Arch Manning, but we all know how that’s going to affect tight ends, receivers and running backs who all want to play with him,” Herbstreit said on ESPN’s SportsCenter this week .
Herbstreit, however, warned Longhorn fans and others not to hoist the “Texas is back” banner just yet. “Fans should hold off on that mindset for now,” he said. “Manning won’t start his college career until the fall of 2023, and it takes time for a team to come together on the field.”
It’s the tie part that Texas seems to have had a problem with, even with some quarterbacks who are considered some of the best in the game at the release point. And that was especially the case this century when it came to arch-rival Sooners.
Can it repeat itself or will history change course? We’ll have to wait and see how everything develops, but one thing is for sure. The Oklahoma defense under Brent Venables is not going to make it easy for anyone, be it Texas or anyone else on the Sooners roster.