Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Texas landing Dia Bell a few cycles removed from Arch Manning is “Sandwich QB” recruiting at its finest

The problem with landing a player of Trevor Lawrence’s or Caleb Williams’ caliber is finding the quarterback who comes next — and even managing the loss of the player who came before him. 

Quarterback management is an art, not a science. It’s great to have Lawrence on the roster, but how do you manage the room behind him? We saw that at Clemson where Lawrence’s 2018 arrival quickly sent Hunter Johnson (a former five-star himself) and Kelly Bryant into the portal.

To combat the Lawrence issue on the recruiting trail, Clemson simply did not sign a QB recruit in the 2019 class. It wouldn’t be until 2020 with DJ Uiagalelei — the No. 2 player in the country — when Clemson would again add to the room, putting a little breathing room between the two five-star passers. The Tigers followed that up with a middling take in 2021. 

This is what I’d consider “sandwich recruiting” at quarterback. It doesn’t always involve skipping a QB cycle. But often it means signing a lesser recruit – either a lower four-star or developmental three-star prospect — to bridge the gap between elite, upper-crust quarterback takes.

We saw another classic example of that Monday when Texas landed Class of 2026 247Sports Composite five-star Dia Bell out of American Heritage High School in Florida.

Texas’ QB room is loaded. Quinn Ewers occupies the top spot and Arch Manning is the future. It’s nice to have the succession plan mapped out, but that type of certainty also creates an issue in recruiting.

With Manning on the roster, how could a 2024 or 2025 QB recruit realistically expect to play quickly? There’s no path. Ewers is going to start this season. Manning will be the starter in 2025 and, if his family history is any indication, perhaps into 2026.

Thus, Texas hasn’t really been in the mix for heavyweight recruits in the 2024 and 2025 cycles after inking Manning in 2023.

The Longhorns followed Manning in the 2024 class with in-state QB Trey Owens, who earned a 90 rating from 247Sports. Owens, at 6-foot-5, 238 pounds, comes to Austin with immense upside but was by no means a national recruit when he picked Texas over in-state programs like Baylor and Houston.

Texas followed the same playbook in the 2025 cycle with Alabama native KJ Lacey, who ranks as the No. 179 overall player in the country. Lacey could have a nice future in Austin (Texas did beat out in-state Auburn for his services). But Lacey, as the No. 13 QB in the country, isn’t one of the war daddies from the 2025 cycle in the way Ewers or Manning were in the past.

That leads us to Bell.

Recent Texas QB recruiting

Cycle Player Stars (Composite) Position Rank (Top247)
2023 Arch Manning 5 1
2024 Trey Owens 4 16
2025 KJ Lacey 4 13
2026 Dia Bell 5 4

By the time Bell gets to campus in 2026, Manning will either be a fourth-year senior or in the NFL. That means Bell’s path to the field is, at most, obstructed by a year.

In other words, Texas sandwiched a few potential bridge takes between its no-doubt star of the future (Manning) and a high-profile recruit (Bell), who the Longhorns and many others believe could be a difference-making QB1 in college.

It’s old school recruiting in an era where the transfer portal is more prevalent than ever.

And yes, if asked publicly Steve Sarkisian would deny this theory. Sarkisian is going to full throatily defend Owens and Lacey’s ability to become Texas’ QB of the future. And who’s to say they won’t emerge? Remember, three-star Mac Jones, the afterthought second quarterback in a class with Tua Tagovailoa, was a Heisman finalist under Sarkisian in 2020 at Alabama – holding off an upper-crust freshman quarterback, Bryce Young. 

Bell, too, would probably deny Texas’ QB room was even a factor. But players and coaches are smart. They look at the depth chart and they can spot obstructions. For 2024 and even 2025 products, Manning was like a big, red stop light for a player’s early career. And, as Texas’ coaches know, a high-profile 2024 QB who doesn’t want to sit has every opportunity to transfer.

That’s where the sandwich QB method comes into play.

If Bell keeps his five-star status and signs with Texas come 2026, the Longhorns will have signed a five-star passer in three (2022, 2023, 2026) of the previous five cycles. At some point you have to fill out the rest of the room with quality depth, or at least players on a different developmental timeline than your preordained quarterback of the future. 

Texas did that during the 2024 and 2025 cycles. Now, with a little space after Manning’s signing, the Longhorns have again landed a big fish in the quarterback market. Come 2027, don’t be surprised if Texas creates some breathing room behind Bell. The sandwich-making never really stops. 

More Texas Longhorns coverage from 247Sports – the industry leader!

How Texas turned into QB destination under Steve Sarkisian

Dia Bell is just the beginning of a 2026 class that could be special

Top skill players in 2026 react to Texas landing Dia Bell

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