Arizona’s chance to claim a Heisman winner still alive

Last fall, Spencer Rattler was getting ready for his sophomore season as the starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners and considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

It looked like the state of Arizona might soon be able to boast a Heisman winner.

Rattler entered the 2021 season rated as the top returning quarterback in college football by Pro Football Focus and the top returning QB in the Big 12 by Bleacher Report.

But last season did not go as planned for the graduate of Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix.  Rattler lost his starting job to freshman Caleb Williams during the sixth game on the schedule.  Williams replaced Rattler in the second quarter, when the Sooners were trailing Texas, 35-17, and led the team to its largest comeback victory in the history of the storied rivalry, posting a 55-48 victory.

That was the last game Rattler would start for the Sooners, unable to regain his job from the newcomer.

Rattler made a big splash in 2020 when he became the first freshman in almost 30 years to start a game for the Sooners.  He threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns, led the Sooners to the Big 12 Championship, and was selected as an All-Conference and AP first-team quarterback.

But that level of play fell off somewhat as the next season got underway.

His relegation to the bench for most of the 2021 season was enough to prompt him to find a landing spot at a program that would give him a chance to earn a shot at that Heisman.  That decision was brought to a head when Lincoln Riley, who had recruited him to Oklahoma, announced he would be leaving Oklahoma to take over the USC program.

Rattler entered the NCAA transfer portal in the final days of November and it took him just two weeks to find a new home with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

That takes him from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC, where he will get the kind of  national media exposure he will need to get back into the Heisman conversation.,

At one point in the speculation about his future, Arizona State was among those reportedly on his short list.  Both ASU and University of Arizona made scholarship offers when he was still a freshman at Pinnacle.

Now he’s stepping into a program that went 6-6 during the regular schedule, but topped the season off with a 38-21 win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

There’s also a twist of irony that has capped this saga.  Williams finished out the remaining seven games as the Sooners’ starter — but then entered the transfer portal himself last week, leaving the Sooners without a returning starter.

And to give this story one final twist… two days ago, Chubba Purdy announced he has been offered a scholarship by the Sooners.  That means another Arizona product may be stepping into the void left by Rattler.  When Purdy graduated from Gilbert’s Perry High School in 2020 he was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat QB in the country and No. 6 overall prospect in Arizona.  He signed with Florida State, but decided that’s not where he wants to be, so he, too, had entered the transfer portal after last season.

So Rattler’s departure at Oklahoma may have opened the door for a fellow Arizonan who also has big aspirations.