Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Washington
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After toiling in mediocrity for more than a decade, No. 3 Texas finally returned to college football's upper echelon in 2023. However, those familiar with the Longhorn fanbase understand that conference title and a 37-31 College Football Playoff loss to No. 2 Washington is going to do more to whet the appetite for success around the program than quench it. 

Just minutes after the heartbreaking defeat to the Huskies, many were already turning their attention to next year. If Texas wants to return to the College Football Playoff, it will have to do so while traversing its first-ever SEC schedule. Perhaps the biggest unknown amid all of that is whether quarterback Quinn Ewers will still be the driving force of Texas' offense as it sets out on its inaugural journey through what has been college football's best conference over the past 15 years. 

Ewers is eligible for the NFL Draft after enjoying a breakout campaign in 2023 but hasn't made a decision on that front. He did appear to drop some hints after Texas' Sugar Bowl loss, implying he may be leaning toward one more go-around on the Forty Acres before embarking on a pro career.

"I'm a human being and I understand what's ahead," Ewers told reporters. "But I know that we're going to work as hard as we can to try to be back. And that's all we can really do, is attack the offseason the right way and just continue to build this team to what it's capable of being."

Texas needs Ewers' experience

While many are waiting with bated breath for the dawn of the Arch Manning era in Austin, Texas, another year of an Ewers-led Texas offense might just be what the Longhorns need to successfully navigate their SEC debut and return to the College Football Playoff. 

Attrition is already inevitable for a unit that lived up to coach Steve Sarkisian's "All gas, No Brakes" mantra in Sarkisian's third season at the helm. That's especially true when it comes to the receiving end of the Longhorns' passing attack. It's possible, if not likely, that all four of Texas' top four pass-catchers -- Xavier Worthy, AD Mitchell, Jordan Whittington and Ja'Tavion Sanders -- depart for the 2024 NFL Draft in the coming weeks after combining for more than 3,000 receiving yards in 2023. 

Manning has no collegiate starting experience and only saw action sparingly amid the closing weeks of the 2023 regular season. For all the hype that would accompany an opportunity for Manning, the learning curve would be steep, especially as the Longhorns find themselves breaking in new receivers and navigating a new set of challenges in the SEC. 

Contrast that with what would be a third-year starting quarterback in Ewers, and it's not hard to see just how much Sarkisian and Co. would benefit from having him around one more year before the baton is passed. Ewers took a major step this past offseason following a 2022 that was plagued by inconsistencies and turnovers. A more polished version of Ewers threw for 3,479 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2023, limiting turnovers and showing a mastery of Sarkisian's high-octane attack. 

The fact Texas even had a chance to win the Sugar Bowl on the final play of the game Monday night after trailing by multiple scores in the fourth quarter was a reminder of just how far Ewers -- and the Longhorns as whole -- has progressed in a short amount of time. 

"I thought [Quinn] had made some big-time throws at critical moments, especially late in the ballgame," Sarkisian told reporters. "He gave us a chance to win. ... That [opportunity] doesn't happen unless he's played his heart out and making some really big-time throws for us." 

Ewers is nowhere near his ceiling 

With all the steps Ewers took this past season, he's still nowhere near his ceiling. Coming out of Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School, Ewers wasn't just the No. 1 ranked quarterback in the 2021 class according to 247Sports, he was the No. 1-ranked player overall with a perfect 100 rating. Another offseason under Sarkisian's wing could further unlock Ewers' potential and send his play into the stratosphere. 

Even if he doesn't reach his lofty ceiling, Ewers' floor is an experienced QB1 who understands Sarkisian's scheme and culture. That will go a long way in mitigating growing pains elsewhere. With the transfer portal in play, Texas is sure to reload at skill positions of need, including wide receiver. All the while, it's a chance for Ewers to further improve his draft stock before embarking on the next chapter of his career behind what should be an experienced and battle-tested offensive line. 

It's a decision that Ewers and only Ewers can make, but the upside is clear for Texas if he decides to call Austin home for just a little bit longer, bringing leadership to a team that will need exactly that in a season of transition.