Pressure grows amid projected breakout for Spencer Rattler, the 2021 CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year

Written by on August 19, 2021

Spencer Rattler is used to greatness. Oklahoma’s redshirt sophomore quarterback has already been projected as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Try to find a preseason list where he is not a first-team All-American. CBS Sports named him to our first team on Wednesday.

In this new age, Rattler has even partnered with Patrick Mahomes’ agent for his NIL opportunities. What’s left? A destiny to be fulfilled, for starters.

As the 2021 CBS Sports / 247Sports Preseason Player of the Year, he is also the leader of perhaps Lincoln Riley’s best team at Oklahoma. The Sooners enter the year ranked No. 2 in the Preseason AP Top 25, and Riley received honors of his own Wednesday when he was named 2021 CBS Sports / 247Sports Preseason Coach of the Year.

But with Rattler entering his third season with OU, we’re still sort of waiting for that breakout season. After a redshirt campaign in 2019, he threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2020. It was a somewhat up and down season that didn’t see him establish some consistency until he returned — after being yanked earlier in the game — to lead Oklahoma over Texas in overtime.

“I feel like a veteran now,” Rattler said. “I am a vet now, knowing what to expect. Even last year was a curveball [with] COVID and competing. Not to say I’m not going to be competing. I feel like I’m in control [now].”

Rattler does not lack for confidence. He seems self-aware of his potential, talent and being. His YouTube channel, established while Rattler was in high school, attracted thousands of viewers. He ran is own apparel business before getting to college. Netflix focused part of its documentary “QB1” on his high school career. Rattler set the Arizona high school career passing record on his 18th birthday.

There’s a magic about him, but at OU, there has to be more. In case you need to be reminded, the list of Oklahoma quarterback greats literally lines S. Jenkins Ave. just east of Memorial Stadium.

You win a Heisman at Oklahoma, you get a statue. There are seven of them across the street from the stadium, including four quarterbacks: Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Sam Bradford and Jason White.

“He’s had some great examples to look up to, even as we were recruiting him,” Riley said. “Baker and Kyler and then his first year in-house with us with Jalen [Hurts]. Those three probably got more attention than any player in college football at that time, and I think all three handled it extremely well.”

Is Rattler “The Next One”? It’s been three years since Murray won his Stiff Arm. That gap qualifies as impatience at Oklahoma. The weight, burden, whatever you want to call it is significant. OU has won six Big 12 titles in a row. But it needs to get over the College Football Playoff hump. The Sooners have been defeated in each of their four CFP semifinal games by an average of 18 points.

“I’m very confident of what I did this offseason,” Rattler said. “I took the steps I needed to.”

What he needed to do was shore up his overall game. Under Rattler, OU started 0-2 in the Big 12 for the first time since 1998.

The Sooners held a comfortable three-touchdown lead at home against Kansas State last Sept. 26 in the third quarter, but the Wildcats rallied to win 38-35. Rattler threw three interceptions. The next week, Iowa State beat Oklahoma (37-30) in Ames for the first time since 1960. The Sooners blew a 17-6 lead in that one with Rattler throwing a late interception.

A second-quarter fumble against Texas the following week let to him being pulled; Rattler had committed six turnovers in three games. He returned to lead a dramatic overtime win and eventually help OU take the Big 12.

Not a bad opening season. Still, there’s more to accomplish.

Going into 2021, Rattler’s improvement is equal parts maturation, diet, strength training and realization. He has always had a bit of Mahomes in him, the ability to make ridiculous throws and complete ridiculous passes. But there is a time and place for everything.

Riley has surrounded Rattler with a complete team. The offensive line that was shaky at times last season has been firmed up. In case it’s not, running back Kennedy Brooks — a two-time 1,000-yard rusher — is back after opting out in 2020. Joining Brooks to form one of the nation’s deepest backfields is Tennessee transfer Eric Gray.

Wide receiver Marvin Mims was a freshman All-American. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has nine starters back, including All-American linebacker Nike Bonitto. The pass defense went from 129th in 2018 to third nationally in interceptions in 2020.

But in this offensive age — in this program, at this time — Rattler must endure more than expectations. He must win. Big. The statues are watching.

“Spencer is a team-first guy,” Riley said. “He has been his entire time here. We have visited about [expectations]. It can be a factor if you let it. You can’t ignore it.”


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