One of the nation’s premier quarterbacks could start his team’s game on Saturday sitting on the bench.
Spencer Rattler, once considered the Heisman front runner and a potential top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has seen a stark reversal of fortune in 2021 — a year in which he has garnered more attention for his on-field setbacks than his playmaking ability.
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That was most evident in his benching for true freshman Caleb Williams in the Red River Showdown: He struggled mightily in the first half, committing two turnovers, as Texas jumped to a 28-7 first-quarter lead. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has unwittingly created a media circus by refusing to name a starter or otherwise address the situation, but said briefly following his team’s 55-48 win that he benched Rattler because of turnover issues.
Rattler finished the game completing 8 of 15 passes for 111 yards and an interception, adding minus-9 rushes and a lost fumble on five carries. Following his second turnover — both led to Texas touchdowns — Riley benched him in favor of Williams, starting with the Sooners’ final drive of the first half. That said, Riley did credit Rattler for completing a crucial 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game at 41-41 in the fourth quarter. He also said he considered letting him return for the Sooners’ go-ahead touchdown drive, which Williams ultimately led.
Saturday’s game wasn’t the first time Rattler has struggled, not only this year, but also in previous seasons. Consider the 2020 Red River Showdown: Then, as in 2021, Riley benched Rattler in favor of Tanner Mordecai following a first-half fumble and interception by the starter. Unlike 2021, Spencer took over following halftime, completing 15 of 24 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Sooners to a four-overtime victory over the Longhorns. Oklahoma didn’t lose another game en route to a 9-2 season.
Following his benching vs. Texas, including the second half vs. the Longhorns, Rattler completed 137 of 212 passes (61.1 percent) for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns to two interceptions. He also added four rushing scores. In all, he finished the 2020 season with 3,031 passing yards, a 67.5 completion percentage and 32 total touchdowns.
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Six games into the 2021 season, it seems Rattler was unable to build off his redshirt freshman campaign. While it’s true he has an absurd 74.3 completion percentage, he has only passed for 300-plus yards once and has interceptions in four games. He has 10 passing touchdowns and five interceptions through six starts. He also has three rushing touchdowns and two fumbles.
Rattler’s relatively below-average play hasn’t adversely affected the Sooners’ record, but Oklahoma has struggled to single-possession victories over unranked Tulane, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kansas State and No. 21 Texas. The only team the Sooners have beaten by more than one possession is FCS opponent Western Carolina, who lost 76-0 to Oklahoma in Week 2.
Rattler’s play has been noted by Sooners faithful, including fans who booed him in Week 4 against West Virginia. They also called for Williams to come on in replacement in what was ultimately a 16-13 Oklahoma win. Riley finally obliged them two weeks later.
MORE: How Caleb Williams, Sooners changed Red River Showdown, Big 12 race and more in 55-48 thriller
Where does that leave Rattler moving forward? Under the NCAA’s new one-time transfer rule, he could conceivably enter the transfer portal and take over for a team in need of a quarterback. He has three more years of eligibility, including the 2021 season, and could rebuild his draft stock at another school. Another potential move is to forgo his final years of eligibility to prepare for the NFL Draft, a move that has gained popularity in recent years among several draft-eligible prospects.
For now, it appears the Oklahoma quarterback is committed to the Sooners at least through the season. His father, Mike Rattler, said they will re-assess the situation following the 2021 campaign.
“For right now, he’s focused on working for this team, and we’ll see what happens after Jan. 10,” Mike Rattler told the OU Daily. “Hopefully he’ll be playing in the national championship on Jan. 10, and then after that we’ll evaluate where he is as far as if any teams are interested in him in the NFL, we’ll consider that.
“If we think, ‘Hey, you know what, we may ought to do another year or something at Oklahoma, wherever’… we’re leaving our options open whereas that is concerned, but for the most part, right now, we don’t even talk about it, because he’s got a task at hand to deal with.”