Why Texas football's Arch Manning will start before Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava | Opinion

The top quarterback recruit in the 2023 class is either Tennessee’s Nico Iamaleava or Texas’ Arch Manning, depending on your ranking service of choice.

On3 ranked Iamaleava as its No. 1 overall prospect, while Manning held that spot with 247Sports. No matter the order, the recruiting services value each of these freshman quarterbacks, who are enrolled at their respective schools and will participate in spring practice.

Expectations will soar for each.

Few high school recruits have endured the spotlight Manning experienced during his career at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. His family pedigree and his five-star ranking coalesced into a much-scrutinized recruitment. Meanwhile, Iamaleava may be the most anticipated Tennessee quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning started as a freshman in 1994.

But will either Manning or Iamaleava start as freshmen? That’s no sure thing, in part because of who is in front of each on the depth chart.

Arch Manning, left, and Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava
Arch Manning, left, and Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava

At Texas, Manning will be behind returning starter Quinn Ewers, while Joe Milton is expected to start for Tennessee. Iamaleava is the only other scholarship quarterback with the Vols. That’s part of the case for Iamaleava starting at some point in 2023: a simple lack of depth. Beyond Iamaleava's projected talent, Milton’s accuracy inconsistencies twice resulted in him surrendering a starting role, first at Michigan and then at Tennessee in 2021.

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Still, while acknowledging it’s tough to predict who will be the better long-term quarterback, we expect Manning will be the first of these two to start in a game.

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A few reasons why:

Texas’ September schedule is daunting

Texas will play at Alabama in Week 2 and at Baylor in Week 4, meaning it’s realistic to think the Longhorns will be 2-2 after four weeks. If such a start occurs on the heels of Texas going 3-3 in its final six games to finish last season, Steve Sarkisian may feel cause to try his ballyhooed freshman. Comparatively, Tennessee’s first four opponents of Virginia, Austin Peay, Florida and Texas-San Antonio affords Milton the stage for a hot start.

Joe Milton finished last season on a heater

Put aside Milton's inconsistencies earlier in his career and focus on his 2022, and you wouldn't think he's in any danger of surrendering the reins to a freshman, no matter how touted he is. Milton flourished in the Vols' Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. Ewers was decent after returning from a September injury, but he struggled in losses to Oklahoma State and TCU.

Steve Sarkisian faces more pressure than Josh Heupel in 2023

Vols fans are elated with Heupel after he delivered Tennessee’s first 11-win season in more than 20 years. While some will clamor for Iamaleava after Milton’s first incompletion, Heupel has largely earned the trust of the fan base. Meanwhile, Sarkisian is 13-12 entering his third season at Texas. Any September struggles would crank up the heat. One way to turn down the temperature? Play Manning, and sell a bright future.

Arch is a Manning. They’re usually prepared

The Texas freshman’s surname suggests he’ll be mature beyond his years. Although uncle Eli did not become Ole Miss’ starter until he was a redshirt sophomore, uncle Peyton started eight games as a Vols freshman. NCAA rules did not permit freshmen to start in grandfather Archie’s days at Ole Miss, but he started each of his last three seasons.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is a senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Why Texas' Arch Manning will start before Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava