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CONNOR: Seven reasons why Virginia may have a chance in the Arch Manning race

The number one recruit in the nation visited Virginia football earlier this month

<p>As implausible as it may seem, Virginia may have a legitimate shot at landing one of the most highly touted recruits of this generation.</p>

As implausible as it may seem, Virginia may have a legitimate shot at landing one of the most highly touted recruits of this generation.

Earlier this month, news broke across college football media that Arch Manning — the top quarterback prospect in the 2023 class — was visiting Virginia. As the nephew of National Football League legends Peyton and Eli Manning, and the son of Cooper Manning, it’s fair to say that Manning is the biggest-name prospect to ever visit Virginia Football. 

As college football fans reacted on social media, news outlets called the development a “surprise visit,” and a “shock.” Manning is currently being chased by football powerhouses like Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas.

While it’s true that Virginia is a smaller football school than Manning’s other options, there are some factors in play that could place Virginia firmly in the race for the most sought-after quarterback in the 2023 class. 

Reason 1: Family ties

By far the most reported explanation for Manning's visit is his family. His mother graduated from the University, while his older sister is a current student. His aunt — the wife of Peyton Manning — is a University alumna also. 

Reason 2: Recent quarterback success

It’s easy to dismiss Virginia as a less successful football school in terms of the Power-5 schools, but the Cavaliers have shown their ability to develop NFL quarterbacks in the past few years. In 2016, Virginia completed the transfer of East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert to its program. While the team had a slow start – going 2-10 in his first season as a Cavalier – 2017 was a different story. Benkert led the team to their first FBS Bowl game in six years and broke Virginia’s single-game passing record. While Benkert went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, he was quickly signed by the Atlanta Falcons and remained on the team until February 2021. He then signed with the Packers during free agency and even made an in-game appearance in a game against the Bears. He is still under contract with the Packers. 

Before Benkert graduated, Virginia made sure to solidify his replacement. The team secured the transfer of Bryce Perkins from junior college, or JUCO, program Arizona Western in 2017. Perkins immediately changed the offense and set the school record for total offense in a season with his versatility as a runner. Perkins also was key in leading Virginia to defeat Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years. Like Benkert, Perkins went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams. He has been under contract since with the team and won Super Bowl LVI in 2022 with the team. 

Then there is Brennan Armstrong. The current Virginia quarterback put college football on notice in the 2021 season, finishing fourth in Division I in passing yards despite only playing in 11 games. Armstrong threw for 31 touchdowns and 4,444 yards, along with nine rushing touchdowns and over 250 rushing yards. The hype for Brennan Armstong is so strong that Bleacher Report listed him as a potential 2022 Heisman candidate. If the Virginia quarterback builds on his performance from last year, it would be surprising not to hear his name called come the 2023 NFL Draft. 

Manning would have three successful college quarterbacks before him, two of which have proven to be NFL caliber while the third is expected to be the best out of his two predecessors. A situation like this could be tempting for a young quarterback going through the recruitment process knowing that the program has set up its quarterbacks for success. 

Reason 3: The hiring of Tony Elliott as Head Coach

Manning visited Clemson twice while Elliott was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator, meaning that the two probably spent a considerable amount of time together during the visits. It’s possible that Elliott’s exit from Clemson played a role in Manning reportedly dropping Clemson from his list just three months later. 

Reason 4: Trend of unexpected commitments

Travis Hunter, the top prospect for the nation in the Class of 2022, was expected to attend Florida State until Dec. 15, when he shocked the football world by flipping to Jackson State, a much smaller school in the less-popularized FCS. In his explanation, Hunter talked about how he wanted to commit to a Historically Black college and university to build upon a rich football history and look toward the future. The No. 1 recruit is risking a lot with this decision, but it also shows how confident he is in his ability. If he manages to become a top NFL prospect at an FCS school, he will be one of the most talked about players in college football. In other words, there is an appeal to shock with a commitment.

Reason 5: Building a program 

Continuing off of Hunter’s situation, Jackson State is an up-and-coming program being led by Coach Deion Sanders — an NFL Hall of Famer. An appeal to Hunter could have been being able to be part of building a program. If Manning were to commit to the Cavaliers, he would automatically be the face of Virginia football. His commitment would most likely entice other players to join him at the program, increasing the talent available for Virginia to recruit. 

Also, anything less than a national Championship at a football powerhouse school such as Alabama would be considered a disappointment. At Virginia, Manning would be hailed as a hero if he could beat Virginia Tech and make the program a more formidable force in the ACC. Being the reason for a program’s success could be appealing for a player like Manning. 

Reason 6: Likely that his NFL future won’t be significantly affected

Manning is one of the rare prospects that would dominate college football no matter where he goes. His skill set will only make the players around him better and he will be able to show off his NFL readiness even if the team doesn't have the same success as other programs. First-round quarterback picks come from all over the college football landscape. For example, the expected top quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft is from Liberty, the No. 2 overall pick last year was a quarterback from Brigham Young and Daniel Jones and Mitchell Trubisky were both drafted early in the first round from ACC schools. Lastly, Manning’s popularity and marketability shouldn’t be greatly affected due to the pure weight of his last name in the football world.

Reason 7: Receiver talent

While he was out with injury during the 2021 season, the return of rising junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. will be huge for the Virginia offense. The 6-foot-7 receiver was a standout his freshman year and will be a senior by the time Manning would enter the program. Star rising junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks will most likely still be on the offense as well. While rising fifth-year wide receivers Billy Kemp and Keytaon Thompson will most likely move on after this season, Virginia has proven to be able to produce productive, versatile receivers like them year after year. Former wide receivers Joe Reed and Olamide Zaccheaus are both on NFL rosters and were a quarterback’s best friend during the Perkins and Benkert eras. Based on this pattern, Manning should expect talented receivers if he decides on Virginia.  

Again, the chances of Manning committing to an ACC school for football are slim. Most of the reasons listed are opportunistic thinking. However, having the No. 1 recruit in the nation visit Virginia serves as a huge vote of confidence towards new head coach Tony Elliott and the program as a whole.

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