Arch Manning is still a Louisiana high schooler. The Isidore Newman rising senior quarterback hasn’t even chosen a college yet. But — in 2023 — the most sought-after recruit in the nation could emerge as the most powerful freshman in college sports history.
What at first glance seems like hyperbole appears more plausible when you consider various factors. Manning will be the biggest incoming star in this brave new world of college athletics. Athletes can profit off their name, image, and likeness. They can change schools via the transfer portal without having to sit out a year. They have more reach due to social media. Plus, last but certainly not least, he’s a member of the first family of football — the Mannings.
Player empowerment has reached amateur sports, and there’s no going back. The moment Arch Manning steps on campus, he’ll bring more clout with him than any freshman has ever wielded. He’ll receive more national media attention than most FBS programs.
Those are the perks of being the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning and the grandson of Archie Manning.
The nation’s top recruit has a top-five list of Georgia, Texas, Alabama, LSU, and Florida. According to Oddschecker, national champion Georgia is the favorite to land Arch Manning, followed by Texas and Alabama. Right now, the buzz around his recruitment is unparalleled.
Most sports fans don’t follow recruiting too closely unless it affects their college and conference. Can you name the nation’s No.2-rated recruit for 2023? Many people wouldn’t recognize Malachi Nelson (he’s heading to USC) in his own home state of California. Do you remember the top recruit for 2022? You actually might know it’s cornerback Travis Hunter only because he made the highly unusual choice to play for Deion Sanders at Jacksonville State.
Manning is in a different league with brand-name recognition that transcends the sport. Even people who know very little about football have heard of the Manning family. The only thing that comes remotely close would have been LeBron James, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager and instantly became a national sensation. But James never played college, going straight to the NBA.
Wherever Arch Manning goes to school, he’s going to have considerable influence. Let’s speculate for a moment. Imagine he picks Texas. Steve Sarkisian, who is already under enormous pressure, will have the heat turned up even further. He must succeed with Manning, which means the coaching staff will likely call plays that the freshman prefers. Not the other way around. If Sarkisian fails to appease Manning, the quarterback could simply enter the transfer portal. Sarkisian would be forever known as the guy who drove away Arch Manning.
That’s real power. Now, perhaps Manning wouldn’t choose this nuclear option. But every coach knows it’s a possibility. The Manning family isn’t afraid to call their own shots. Eli Manning refused to play for the San Diego Chargers after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2004, forcing a trade to the New York Giants where he won two Super Bowls.
Perhaps the only college coach who wouldn’t feel intimidated by the Mannings is Nick Saban. While he might love Arch Manning, he doesn’t need him. Saban has won championships with the likes of AJ McCarron, Greg McElroy, and Jake Coker. It’s only fairly recently that Alabama has become a quarterback destination spot.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Manning will live up to the enormous hype. Just because his uncles and his grandfather were talented enough to be high first-round draft picks doesn’t mean he will. And as talented as they were, none of them won a national championship in college. Tennessee famously won it all in 1998, the season after Peyton Manning left for the NFL.
But at least for his freshman year, Arch Manning will have unprecedented power over his college football choices. It will be interesting to see how he uses it.