Texas backup QB Arch Manning steals spotlight ahead of Sugar Bowl showdown with Washington

Manning is now just one play away from seeing action in the College Football Playoff.

NEW ORLEANS — Spread across the Superdome’s artificial turf field Saturday, Texas football players and coaches took their places at the Sugar Bowl’s main media day.

Every player and staff member was available, some of them even positioned on raised platforms and others with name placards before them.

But the most popular person here, surrounded at one point by as many as two dozen reporters, sat, fittingly, along an aluminum bench with other backups.

He needed no platform, stage or name placard.

“It’s Arch day,” someone among the crowd whispered.

For the first time since he enrolled last January at Texas, Arch Manning spoke publicly to media members, drawing a bigger crowd than Texas’ starting QB and, even, his own head coach. For 50 minutes, he answered a barrage of questions as a rotation of reporters encircled him.

How’s it been to be a backup for the first time in your career? Fine, he said, while acknowledging there’s been an adjustment.

What’s it like to be back in your hometown? Cool, he said. He actually got to spend a couple nights with his folks at their Uptown New Orleans home, even bringing over teammates to introduce them to the family.

Did you contemplate transferring? No way, he said.

How did you lose your team-issued ID badge? Funny enough, he’s lost the badge twice.

Are you ready to play if starter Quinn Ewers goes down? Well, sure, he said. He’ll be ready to “roll.”

How would you assess yourself in the two games in which you played? “I fumbled a snap,” he laughed. “Glad that I got that out of the way.”

Whew! Finally, he was free to leave, breathless and exhausted having answered more than 60 questions.

Texas quarterback Arch Manning talks to reporters during media day for the the upcoming Sugar Bowl NCAA college football semi-final game in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Texas quarterback Arch Manning was the center of attention during the Sugar Bowl media day on Saturday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Such is life for not just one of the country’s most high-profile freshman quarterbacks, but the third generation of arguably football’s first family — his grandfather’s own retired number (8) hanging from the Superdome rafters above him as he spoke on the field.

“Did he do OK?” Archie Manning asked afterward during a brief interview with Yahoo Sports.

Archie will be in attendance when his grandson’s No. 3 Texas team meets No. 2 Washington on Monday night in the very same building in which he built his legacy in this city as the Saints' starting quarterback.

With the departure of backup QB Maalik Murphy, Archie’s grandson is one play away from being Texas’ quarterback, one snap from taking the field on which his grandfather and two uncles, Peyton and Eli, slung the pigskin.

How about that?

“I guess now that you know you’re one play away instead of two, there’s a little more to worry about,” Arch said.

Wait. That’s not the right word.

“Not worry about but be prepared for,” he clarified with a smile.

While Arch spoke to reporters, granddad Archie arrived at his restaurant about a half-mile away from the Superdome to watch his Ole Miss Rebels in the Peach Bowl. Arch’s dad, Cooper, was planning to do the same.

But first, asked Cooper, “How’d Arch do?”

Arch speaking publicly was the talk of the family. What did he say? How did he do? How long did it go?

The Mannings kept a low profile during Arch’s high school days. They shied away from many interviews. They handled his recruitment in a quiet manner. There were no gaudy graphics, nor was there a televised decision show.

Last June, he pledged to Texas with a single tweet and message: “Committed to the University of Texas. #Hookem.”

And now here he was answering questions for nearly an hour as a backup in his hometown with his team two wins away from a national championship. The highlight of the conversation? Losing his team-issued ID badge twice.

On his second day of school, Arch left the badge in English class, where a person found it, scanned it to actually enter the football building and, thankfully for Arch, returned it.

“I got a FaceTime call from Sark,” he said laughing.

Cooper can laugh about it too.

“It’s good for you. I lost a car for a couple days,” Cooper chuckled. “He comes by it naturally.”

Like any freshman, Arch is adjusting to college life both as a student and athlete. He’s no longer mentally and physically ahead of everyone else around him as he was at Isidore Newman High School.

For instance, Archie says, in the early days at Texas last spring, Arch rang his grandfather’s phone to chat about that. He refers to Archie as “Red,” a longtime nickname.

“First time I talked to him after he was practicing, he said, ‘Red, they scream a lot!’” Archie remembered. “I said if they’re not screaming at you, they probably don’t care much about you.”

He’s had to adjust to the yelling, Cooper said. But so goes life as a quarterback under offensive guru Steve Sarkisian.

“Sark’s a quarterback guy,” said Texas QB coach A.J. Milwee. “You’re going to get coached hard. How do you handle that and rebound from that? Those are the things we try to focus on.”

Another adjustment: being a backup.

For him, it’s a first in his career even dating back to the flag football days. Sure, he was a backup on his high school basketball team, but in football? Never.

Has it been frustrating and, at times, difficult? Yes. Milwee, in fact, said he’s held multiple meetings with Arch about that exact thing, including when he arrived on campus in January.

“I told him this is going to be one of the tougher years you’ve experienced as a football player,” Milwee said. “To say we didn’t have meetings just to remind him, this is what you’re working towards. You’re working every day towards when that time comes for you, you’re ready.”

Things got even more difficult when Murphy, not Arch, replaced an injured Ewers for two games this season. What did Cooper think?

“Texas probably needed to get a look at Maalik,” he said. “What kind of guy is he? He’d been there a year longer than Arch.”

Texas quarterback Arch Manning (16) stands at the line of scrimmage during the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Arch Manning has played in two games for Texas this season but is now the backup quarterback. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

And now he’s gone, having transferred to Duke. That leaves Arch behind Ewers. But for how long? Ewers, who is draft-eligible, says he’s undecided about returning for next season. The fact that he’s contemplating a return means the possibility of Arch sitting another season as a backup. Or, maybe, it means a hotly competitive spring and summer quarterback competition between two of the country’s most prized quarterbacks.

“We’ll handle that after [Quinn] makes the decision,” Cooper said. “I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about things that I can’t control and haven’t happened yet. Arch loves his teammates. He’s got great relationships. He’s a really happy college student. He loves Texas. You got a sense when he went in that [Texas] Tech game that fans are excited about him being their quarterback one day.”

So he’ll stick around either way? Sure.

Cooper shies away from being an involved parent with the staff. So does Archie. In fact, as a Sugar Bowl committee member, Archie is allowed to watch the semifinal teams practice each day in the Superdome. He chose not to attend.

“I didn’t want some other grandaddy saying, ‘Hey, why’s he there!?’”

Cooper and Arch don’t talk too much about football. Oftentimes, dad is there for son to just call and vent about various college issues, including, yes, being a backup.

“Sometimes, just like anything, you just listen. They need to vent,” Cooper said. “He had a good relationship with Maalik. He and Quinn room together on the road. I think they’re tough on him. I think [the coaches] yell at him a lot. That’s an adjustment. But I think he loves it. Loves the meetings. He spends a lot of time with [Texas analyst] Paul Chryst. They’ve been real close.

"I think Sark was patient with him. Didn’t want to put him in there when he wasn't ready.”

When's he ready to take over? If Ewers goes down, a confident Arch says he’s ready now. And yet, he’s thrown just five passes this season.

“It can be tough,” Arch said. “You have to trust the process. Not a lot of freshmen have played this year. Stick with the process. My time, whenever that may be, is coming.”

On Saturday, it was his time in front of the cameras for the first time in nearly a year. He did clear up one thing: Reports of him earning millions in name, image and likeness (NIL) deals is not true.

Cooper shot down recruiting stories as well. NIL was not a factor in Arch’s college choice. He’s only thus far signed a trading card deal that industry experts put in the low six figures.

Will he earn NIL eventually? Maybe. But reports of his seven-figure deals are not accurate.

“All this NIL stuff is BS. People just make up numbers,” Cooper said. “Don’t believe what you read.”

Back on the Superdome field Saturday, Arch’s media time winded down. He rose from the metal bleachers and paced off the field in his black Texas sweats with the other backups. One of his teammates wheeled around to him.

“Hey, Arch,” he said, “you out of breath?”