Texas Tech v Texas
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NEW ORLEANS -- It's a rare sight for a freshman backup quarterback with only five pass attempts on the season to receive arguably as much as attention as any other player -- or even the head coach -- during a College Football Playoff semifinal media day. It might even be unprecedented, but such is, and has been, the case for Arch Manning

To hear him tell it, all Manning really wants to do is be a part of the team and spend time with "the fellas." But from the moment he lost his student ID in the opening weeks of his time on campus in Austin, Texas, Manning knows the spotlight will be a little different for him than the average backup quarterback. 

As No. 3 Texas prepares to face No. 2 Washington on Monday night in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, Manning is taking on more responsibility than he had most of the season. When backup Maalik Murphy -- who started two games this season for an injured Quinn Ewers -- decided to transfer, it thrust Manning into the next-man-up position. While that was a role he had already assumed during Ewers' time out of the lineup, Manning acknowledged the stakes are a little bit different. 

"I think I've gotten better every week," Manning told CBS Sports. "This week is a little different because of all the time off, and there is a lot on the line, but it's just another game." 

Manning has had some time to consider what's at stake now that Murphy's transferred out of the program and committed to Duke. He was questioned about whether he also would want to transfer if Ewers decided to bypass the 2024 NFL Draft and return to Texas next season, and he quickly reaffirmed his commitment to the Longhorns program.   

"I wish the best for Maalik," Manning said. "We got to be really close. I know he's going to do good things at Duke, and I'm really excited to watch him and how he grows, and I hope I get to see him at Manning Passing Academy." 

Ewers also offered his support for Murphy in the decision, even as it takes a significant piece away from the quarterback room in advance of one of the biggest games for Texas football in more than a decade. But with Murphy gone, there is also more work for Manning. 

"It opens up things for Arch for sure," Ewers said. "He's getting a lot more reps than he was during the entire season." 

Manning has had a strong support system in dealing with the spotlight since his time as a high-profile recruit in New Orleans at Isidore Newman. There, his coaches helped deal with recruiting calls so he could live a normal student life, and now his parents help handle the NIL side of things to allow him to focus a majority of his time and energy on the experience of being a Texas football player.

And if you talk to Manning's Texas teammates, it's clear that support system is working. 

"I feel like [Manning] handles everything like a pro," Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy explained. "Just his approach on everything, being so young. I feel like it's probably something his uncles passed down to him. But I feel like he handles everything like a pro." 

Manning won't take the first snap for Texas on Monday night, but there is a chance that he's one play away from having his number called. That's where Manning's pro-like preparation will be needed should he be called upon to take the field in the building where his grandfather's name is in the ring of honor. From the moment Murphy announced his transfer, the stakes changed for Manning. But to let him or his teammates explain it, the stakes haven't changed the player. 

"Arch has been tremendous," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I give him a lot of credit, because he operates on a daily basis like that's not the name on the back of his jersey. He comes to work and works as hard or harder than anybody in our program. He's extremely humble. He's there for his teammates. I've seen dramatic improvement in him. 

"That's not the say he wasn't really good when he got here, but he's worked so hard to improve his game not only physically but mentally. I think he has got tremendous rapport with his teammates, and he's fun to coach because he's coachable. He wants to do it right. You definitely see the Manning gene in him. The work ethic is undeniable. The football IQ is undeniable. We're fortunate to have him. He's a real pleasure."