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Carlson: Why OU quarterback Spencer Rattler is now ready for the spotlight and the job

Being in the spotlight is part of being the starting quarterback at OU.

Spencer Rattler will soon find that out.

But the second-year freshman who was named the starter earlier this week may step into the job as prepared for the heat as any Sooner quarterback ever. He lived in the spotlight in high school. He was featured in a Netflix documentary, was front and center at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback competition and was followed by more than 100,000 people on Instagram before he ever stepped foot on campus in Norman.

All of that probably made the past year or so a bit jarring for Rattler.

He went dark.

At least publicly.

Rattler was a third-string quarterback last season, an afterthought really to the sports world. Sure, there were occasional musings on social media and sports radio about him. But for the most part, Rattler went about day-to-day life in anonymity.

And it could well be the best thing to ever happen for him.

After all, spending time immersed in the teachings of Lincoln Riley has worked out pretty darn well for Sooner signalcallers who’ve come before Rattler.

He will be the fourth starting quarterback for OU since Riley first arrived in Norman as the offensive coordinator in January 2015. All three who came before Rattler spent at least eight months with Riley before taking over the starting job.

All were better for it.

The way Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts played for the Sooners, it might be hard to recall the way they played before arriving at OU. So, let’s rewind a minute.

Mayfield, you’ll remember, made history in 2013 when he earned the starting job at Texas Tech as a true freshman walk-on. But what he did on the field was fairly forgettable. He threw too many interceptions and made too many questionable decisions. It’s why he ultimately lost the starting job.

Murray, a backup most of 2015 as a true freshman at Texas A&M, became the starter when Kyle Allen was benched midway through the year. But Murray didn’t hold onto the job. He finished that season with a completion percentage under 60% and more interceptions (seven) than passing touchdowns (five).

And Hurts went from starting as a true freshman at Alabama to getting benched as a sophomore in the national championship game. He just didn’t throw it well enough to keep elite defenses honest. His completion percentage his first two seasons was just about 60%, and his yards per attempt only averaged around 7 or 8.

Hurts, Murray and Mayfield all spent the better part of a year or more learning under Riley before becoming the starter. Mayfield and Hurts only had about eight months each — Mayfield had been on campus about a year before Riley was hired, and Hurts came as a grad transfer in the winter before starting the next fall — while Murray had the longest stretch, more than 2 ½ years.

But it’s evident how much better all of them got just from that time meeting with and learning from Riley.

Even though they all threw it more than they had before, their percentages and touchdowns went up while their interceptions and mistakes went down. All three had some of the best statistical seasons in the history of college football.

So, what does this all mean for Spencer Rattler?

First of all, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be as good right away as Mayfield or Murray or Hurts. Those guys had played major-college football before becoming OU’s starting quarterback. Rattler has not.

He is bound to have growing pains.

But he won’t have as many as he would’ve had he been thrust into the starting role a year ago. Rattler is in a better place now because of the place he has been for the past year — learning at the feet of the quarterback whisperer.

“I would say his knowledge of our offense and what we want to do and why we’re doing things and just the understanding the whole picture there has probably been the biggest area of improvement,” Riley said. “The level of preparation at this level to play that position the way we expect is … ”

Riley paused.

“I don’t care what high school you came out of, this is a different deal.”

That’s the case even for a guy as highly regarded as Spencer Rattler. He might’ve been ready a year ago to handle the spotlight that comes with being the starting quarterback at OU — but he wasn’t ready to actually be the starting quarterback.

Now, he’s ready.

For the spotlight and the job.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>Last year, Spencer Rattler was out of the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But if recent history tells us anything, a year learning at the feet of Lincoln Riley will be a year well spent. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Last year, Spencer Rattler was out of the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But if recent history tells us anything, a year learning at the feet of Lincoln Riley will be a year well spent. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0c51ac0af0c3183667e7c81d7ae841be.jpg" alt="Photo - Last year, Spencer Rattler was out of the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But if recent history tells us anything, a year learning at the feet of Lincoln Riley will be a year well spent. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Last year, Spencer Rattler was out of the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But if recent history tells us anything, a year learning at the feet of Lincoln Riley will be a year well spent. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Last year, Spencer Rattler was out of the spotlight for the first time in a long time. But if recent history tells us anything, a year learning at the feet of Lincoln Riley will be a year well spent. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e75fa47aa28e26eadd169a97d69a6ed3.jpg" alt="Photo - OU fans greet quarterback Spencer Rattler before last year's season opener against Houston at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU fans greet quarterback Spencer Rattler before last year's season opener against Houston at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU fans greet quarterback Spencer Rattler before last year's season opener against Houston at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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