Oklahoma football: Does Spencer Rattler have one foot in the transfer portal?

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley talks with Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler (7) before a two point-conversion attempt during the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Texas (UT) Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 55-48.Ou Vs Texas
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley talks with Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler (7) before a two point-conversion attempt during the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Texas (UT) Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. Oklahoma won 55-48.Ou Vs Texas /

Will the quarterback of the No. 4-ranked Oklahoma football Sooners please step forward.

Going into Saturday’s Red River rivalry game with Texas, there was no question who was the Oklahoma starting quarterback.

The job was Spencer Rattler’s. How could it not be? After all, we’re talking about someone who was 14-2 as the Sooners’ starter, was a preseason All-American, the favorite to become the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in the last five years, and a projected NFL first-round draft pick.

That’s quite a shoulder full of high expectations to bear. Plus, those in the know in college football have been talking all offseason about this being the year that Oklahoma finally gets over the hump in the College Football Playoff with a legitimate shot at winning that elusive eighth national championship.

Perhaps the weight of living up to all those expectations is affecting Rattler’s performance and, in turn, has made the Sooners’ previously high-powered offense appear uncharacteristically lethargic through the first half of this season.

And then there’s that whole new dimension of name, image, likeness that is dramatically changing the marketing and monetary aspect of college athletics. And Rattler has been one of the early beneficiaries in the NIL world. But that’s a whole other story.

Rattler’s reign as the starting quarterback in Oklahoma’s previous 15 games may be over, or maybe not? That’s a decision that head coach Lincoln Riley is going to have to make.

The fact is, the former five-star recruit and No. 1 quarterback in the 2019 class has not played as well as he did in leading Oklahoma to eight consecutive wins to end last season and a final No. 6 national ranking.

Rattler was pulled from Saturday’s game with Texas with 6:41 remaining in the second quarter and the Longhorns leading 28-17.

The Sooner quarterback had just competed a 14-yard pass, setting the Sooners’ up at the 48-yard line in Texas territory in a possession that could have cut further into the Longhorn lead. But Rattler lost the ball fighting for an extra yard on the very next play, his second turnover of the game (he had thrown an interception in the first quarter).

The Rattler fumble was recovered by Texas. It took the fired-up Longhorns just two plays to turn a potential OU scoring opportunity into seven more points for Texas. Instead of 28-24 or 28-10, the score was now 35-17.

Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams, himself a former five-star, No. 1 recruit, was sent in the game to replace Rattler. Williams had played only sparingly in the Sooners’ first five games, and now he was being sent in to hopefully change things up and lead Oklahoma in a comeback effort in one of the most pressure-filled environments in all of college football.

To Williams’ credit, though, he had already shown in this game what he was capable of. He entered the game on a fourth-and-one situation at the Oklahoma 34-yard line early in the second quarter. Williams not only picked up the needed yard to keep the Sooner drive alive, but broke free for 65 additional yards and an OU touchdown.

You can be sure that play entered into Riley’s thinking in making the quarterback change later in the quarter.

Rattler would not return to the game — other than for a two-point conversion try to tie the game at 41 in the fourth quarter — after he was sidelined midway through the second quarter. To that point in the game, Rattler was 8 of 15 passing for 111 yards, no touchdowns and two turnovers.

By now, everyone knows the turnaround that the freshman Williams helped engineer. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In addition, he gained 88 yards on the ground. It was the largest Oklahoma comeback win over Texas in the history of the Red River rivalry.

Riley now has a quarterback dilemma. Who will get the start next weekend against TCU? Does he reward the freshman Williams with his first start on the heels of his brilliant performance against Texas? Or do you stick with the more experienced quarterback and incumbent Rattler.

Don’t expect to learn that answer until late in the week, if then. Riley may know what he is going to do, but why tip off the opponent, making them have to prepare for both possibilities.

Williams gives the Oklahoma offense a dimension it doesn’t have with Rattler. Williams not only is a threat throwing the football, he can also beat you with his legs, as he showed to a national television audience on Saturday.

Rattler has completed just five of 15 passes this season that have traveled 20 or more yards. Williams completed three of five such passes on Saturday.

With Williams directing the OU offense in the second half against Texas, the Sooners looked more like the Oklahoma wide-open offenses of old. It may not have been perfect, but things sure changed in the Sooner run game and in the downfield aerial attack after Williams entered the game.

So far, it’s only a one-game sample size, but if Williams gets the start against TCU and performs well, it will probably be his job to lose going forward. And, if that’s the case, the burning question becomes, what will happen with Rattler?

Rattler definitely needs to play to improve his NFL Draft stock, which is sure to have taken a hit with his lackluster performance through six games this season. He may even decide to defer turning pro for another year in order to improve his draft position.

If he is replaced as the permanent starter at Oklahoma and if he has already made the decision that this is his last collegiate season, Rattler may stick it out at OU for the remainder of the football season, regardless of what happens.

But if this is not his last college season, and he is not going to be the starter at Oklahoma, it would not at all be surprising for Rattler to enter the transfer portal and go somewhere else where he can be the starter and improve his NFL Draft resume. More on that scenario in a later article.

A lot to process and some major decisions for Riley and his Sooner coaching staff. Either way this goes — and assuming that Riley doesn’t side somewhere in the middle and go with a two-quarterback system — what happened in the OU comeback against Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday is going to have implications for both quarterbacks from this point forward.

Believe it or not, most college head coaches not named Lincoln Riley would relish having this problem.