ATLANTA — Spencer Rattler is getting a mulligan. After two prolific but scrutinized seasons at Oklahoma, the former five-star quarterback is starting over at South Carolina, reunited with coach Shane Beamer, who was an assistant at Oklahoma when Rattler arrived there in 2019.
For all the struggles Rattler endured at OU last season before losing the job to Caleb Williams, in Rattler’s last 20 games he completed 70% of his passes with 40 touchdowns and averaged more than 9 yards per attempt.
Beamer, who went 7-6 last year with wins over Auburn, Florida and North Carolina, understands he has a special talent at the game’s most important position.
“The narrative I know was he got benched last year in the Texas game,” Beamer said Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “He got sat down the year before, too. Then he came back in the second half, played his butt off, beat Texas in four overtimes and he never lost a game as a starting quarterback again — and still hasn’t as a starting quarterback.
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“I don’t worry about Spencer. There may be some outside pressure with him. He’s been through the fire before. I saw firsthand how he handled it when he was at Oklahoma and started out 0-2 (in 2020). Never flinched. Continued to get better. There will be some ups, certainly some downs this season. But I have no worry about him from that standpoint and being able to handle it.”
“With Spencer,” he added, “nobody is asking him to go out there and be Superman, just go be you, and confident that he will.”
Considering the Gamecocks exceeded expectations last year while shuffling through three quarterbacks — including a graduate assistant pulled out of retirement — Rattler’s arrival, along with former Oklahoma tight end Austin Stogner, Beamer’s team could quietly surprise in the SEC East.
“We made great strides last season going from two wins to seven wins,” Beamer said. “A challenge for us is making sure our guys understand that going from seven to the next step, the next level, is going to take even more work.”
Mega-conferences on the way?
Unlike last year, the second day of SEC media days came and went without any bombshell reports of conference expansion or realignment. Last July at media days, news broke that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. It took nearly a year, but last month the Big Ten responded and rustled UCLA and USC from the Pac-12, re-igniting breathless discussions of potential mega-conferences unfolding in the near future.
Alabama’s Nick Saban tried to stiff-arm the conversation Tuesday but quickly gave in.
“I don’t like to answer hypothetical questions, which that could be as hypothetical as any I’ve ever been asked,” he said. “I do think there is some tendency, as current events sort of indicate, that mega-conferences may be something in the future. It’s not my job or my role to understand the dynamics of what’s in the best interest of college football, the SEC, other conferences in terms of how they expand.”
“Look,” he added, “I’m not here to say we should have it or we shouldn’t have it, but if we have two 20-team leagues, how is that going to impact all the people that are not in those leagues? That’s a question for all of you to speculate and answer on. I really can’t speculate on that.”
For now, the Sooners and Longhorns aren’t slated to join the SEC until 2025.
Of all the coaches in the SEC, few understand Oklahoma and Texas better than Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, who recruited and coached against both schools for a decade at Texas Tech in the Big 12. Leach was an assistant at OU in 1999.
“From their standpoint I think it’s going to change things quite dramatically,” Leach said. “From our standpoint, I mean, you guys have us as having the toughest schedule in the country. So that being the case, we can’t play everybody. So knock two of those guys off and add OU and Texas, and I probably gained about half a step I would think.”
Vandy streaks into 2022
Here’s the statistic of woe for SEC football: Vanderbilt takes a 21-game losing streak in conference play into Clark Lea’s second season in Nashville. The Commodores’ last SEC victory came — sorry, Mizzou fans — Oct. 19, 2019 against the Tigers.
It’s been so long since Vandy won an SEC game that the winning head coach, Derek Mason, is now on his third job since the 2019 season, starting his first year as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator.
That sobering streak doesn’t dull Lea’s outlook for his program. Vandy was 2-10 in his debut season last fall, but Lea has grand visions for the SEC’s annual doormat.
“We know in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country,” Lea said during the lengthiest opening statement of the week, 2,340-words, according to the official transcript. “As I said a year ago, there are no cheat codes, shortcuts, no hacks that will allow this to happen overnight. This is still about going the long, hard way, independent of the trends and headlines generating the most attention right now in college football.”
Lea has already made a pivotal decision that could boost Vandy’s chances this year, naming dynamic runner Mike Wright his starting quarterback over the more experienced Ken Seals. Wright gashed Mizzou for 153 rushing yards last year in Nashville. Wright attended the Manning Passing Academy earlier this summer in Louisiana and found himself assigned an interesting roommate: Hendon Hooker, the quarterback at what Wright called “the orange school.” That would be in-state rival Tennessee.
“I think Peyton did that on purpose just to throw a little jab,” Wright said. “It was fun.”