Oklahoma’s starting quarterback has become all but a guarantee to finish in the top five of each season’s Heisman Trophy voting since Lincoln Riley arrived at OU in 2015 to lead the program’s offense.
Former three-year starter and current Cleveland Browns signal-caller Baker Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2015, third in ‘16 and won the honor in ‘17. Kyler Murray, who came to OU from Texas A&M in 2016 and now stars for the Arizona Cardinals, won the award his lone year as the team’s starter in 2018. and Jalen Hurts, who transferred to OU via Alabama and recently earned the Philadelphia Eagles starting role, was the award’s first runner-up last season.
Spencer Rattler, who is the first to follow in the trio’s footsteps, has taken command of the OU offense as a redshirt freshman, but the Associated Press’ Big 12 Newcomer of the Year didn’t receive consideration for college football’s most prestigious individual award. The quarterback he will compete opposite at the Cotton Bowl Classic on Wednesday, however, is a finalist for the accolade OU’s quarterbacks have been at the center of the past five seasons.
Florida senior quarterback Kyle Trask, who is a finalist alongside Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith, has been vital to the Gators’ resurgence, leading the country in both passing yards per game (375.0) and passing touchdowns (43). and in a longer season, his 4,125 yards in 11 games would be on pace to surpass Mayfield’s 4,627 yards thrown over 14 games in 2017 and Murray’s 4,361 in ‘18.
The task ahead of OU’s defense isn’t lost on defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who must game plan for an offense that looks more like what OU’s put on the field in recent years than anything.
“Without question, you turn the film on, it doesn’t matter what opponent you watch them against,” Grinch said last Tuesday during a Cotton Bowl media session. “Obviously, the first one you throw on is them against Alabama from this past weekend. Why do you do that? Tremendous respect for Alabama. and you’re saying, ‘now, wait a second.’ To put up those numbers, to have that type of production, to see it on that stage, you’re saying, now, this is one of the best in our country.”
Rattler and the OU offense hasn’t been quite as good as they have during Riley’s tenure, yet a “down year” for the Sooners is still the class of the Big 12.
The Sooners led the conference in passing yards (3,216), passing touchdowns (27) and scoring offense (41.8 points), while Rattler accounted for 2,784 yards passing, 25 touchdowns through the air and a 68.0% completion percentage, all of which are individual bests in the Big 12’s shortened season.
Rattler’s redshirt freshman season started on a bumpy note, going 0-2 in his first two Big 12 games. In both outings, the Sooners rookie quarterback threw game-sealing interceptions on OU’s last offensive series. He was then benched temporarily in the second quarter against Texas in the Red River rivalry.
Since throwing a combined five interceptions against Kansas State on Sept. 26, Iowa State on Oct. 3 and in the first half against Texas on Oct. 10, Rattler has thrown just two picks in OU’s next six-and-a-half games. He’s led the Sooners to seven straight wins, including a quadruple overtime win over the Longhorns, and a conference championship victory over the Cyclones on Dec. 19.
He’s even caught the attention of Trask, who barring a last-minute change of heart plans to be in Arlington, Texas, to duel with the younger quarterback.
“I know their quarterback, Spencer [Rattler]. He’s really, really good,” Trask said. “They have a great solid team, and we definitely aren’t going to sleep on them at all. I know they’re a great team. This game is definitely going to be a battle.”