First and 10: Why is Spencer Rattler so happy at South Carolina? He survived Lincoln Riley
1. I don’t want to get on soapbox, but …
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the very definition of college football free agency: the South Carolina Gamecocks.
When you’re a mid-tier team in the best conference in college football and have a problem scoring points, there’s only one answer. Add a championship-winning quarterback, a starting Power 5 tailback, a pair of starting wide receivers and a starting tight end — all through the transfer portal.
And all 5 players landed by Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer, an NFL scout told me, will eventually play in the NFL.
Welcome to college football free agency.
“Beamer killed it in the portal,” new South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler told SDS. “(Free agency) is part of the game now. They do it in the NFL, and now we do it in college. A lot of coaches will just up and leave after committing to a program. It’s only fair if players can do the same thing to better themselves.”
Before we further celebrate this new and highly unstable toy players are beginning to enjoy and coaches are trying to unravel, understand that NFL and college football free agency are truly one and the same at the most important point of all: it’s a crapshoot.
With the exception of a small, elite percentage of players, the portal (and NFL free agency) is for the unwanted and/or the unused. In the NFL, players (for the most part) aren’t offered contracts because of salary cap issues or lack of talent. In college football, players (for the most part) leave because of playing time or lack of talent.
That’s what makes Beamer’s portal haul so impressive. The 5 offensive skill players he landed – Rattler, TB Christian Beal-Smith, TE Austin Stogner and WRs Antwane Wells and Corey Rucker — were all wanted by their respective teams and all would’ve been major pieces to winning.
Nearly every college football heavyweight wanted Beal-Smith, with most having visions of him becoming the next Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State’s 2021 All-American transfer from Wake Forest. The emergence of Beal-Smith in 2020 was the reason Walker left Wake Forest (see: sharing carries).
Rucker had 14 TDs in 23 career games at Arkansas State, and Wells was an FCS All-American at JMU with 21 TDs in 22 career games. Both wanted to play in the SEC and raise their NFL draft profile.
Then there’s Stogner, the former 4-star recruit who started it all when he decided to leave Oklahoma for South Carolina. It was Stogner who reached out to his Oklahoma teammate Rattler, who entered 2021 as a potential No. 1 overall first pick in this upcoming NFL Draft but was benched a month into the season and everything was recalibrated.
To this day, Rattler said he was never given a reason why he was benched, just that then-OU coach Lincoln Riley felt as though freshman Caleb Williams gave the team a better chance to win.
Oklahoma failed to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2014 and failed to play in the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time since 2009 (the game was reinstituted in 2017 after being canceled after the 2010 season).
“I really feel if we kept our team together, kept the same guys on the field, we would’ve won another (championship) ring,” Rattler said.
Now he has the chance to do something unique at South Carolina, with a new group of impact starters from the transfer portal – including S Devonni Reed and DE Terrell Dawkins – ushering in free agency at South Carolina.
The team that averaged 22 points and 337 yards per game in the age of the quarterback had to get better at the most important position on the field.
The team that converted only 35% of its 3rd-down opportunities, that completed only 58% of its passes and averaged only 7.3 yards per attempt, had only one option with a quarterback-depleted roster.
The transfer portal.
“An endless ball of fun,” Beamer says sarcastically of the portal.
And free agency is just getting started.
2. Embracing the unknown
Rattler’s cell phone was blowing up. Lane Kiffin flew out to see him within the first week.
Chip Kelly, Scott Frost, Bryan Harsin, Herm Edwards and Pat Narduzzi reached out. Everyone wanted the quarterback who, a few months earlier, was considered the Heisman Trophy favorite after leading the Sooners to the 2020 Big 12 Championship and a blowout win over Florida in the Cotton Bowl.
Then Stogner called about South Carolina and raved about what Beamer was building. Rattler knew Beamer from Oklahoma, where Beamer was assistant head coach from 2018-20 and won a championship with Rattler.
Rattler knew nothing of South Carolina, only that it trailed the heavyweights in the SEC and it was a long way from his home in Arizona. Beamer convinced him to visit, and Rattler signed days later.
“(Beamer) respects all of his players, no matter who you are – a walk-on or a 5-star, you’re going to be treated the same,” Rattler said. “He has respect, he loves player input. A lot of coaches don’t listen to player input. He wants it, and he’s a guy who will fight for you. A guy that will have your back.”
Rattler paused, underscoring the key to the transfer portal for any player looking to move: The second time around must be about fit.
“You don’t want a coach that’s not going to have your back,” he continued. “I was in a situation (at Oklahoma) where my coach didn’t have my back as much as I wanted. I looked at a guy like (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban. He’d stand in front of the media and take the heat and say, ‘These are my guys.’ Just fighting for your players. (Beamer) is next level when it comes to that. He doesn’t take mess from anyone.”
3. Quick change, The Epilogue
Midway through last season, things were getting ugly in Columbia. They weren’t bailing on Beamer, but the fan base was beside themselves with the offense and its lack of creativity.
That meant offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Marcus Satterfield must be in over his head.
Or, back in reality: Satterfield was trying to make chicken salad from chicken spit.
By the end of the season, the Gamecocks were using FCS transfer Jason Brown, who had last played football in 2019 because St. Francis canceled its 2020 COVID season.
That was after oft-injured Luke Doty didn’t work, and after Beamer and Satterfield had to convince graduate assistant coach Zeb Noland – who played the previous season at FCS North Dakota State – to go from coach to player and commandeer the most important position on the field in the best conference in college football.
Now Satterfield has Rattler, and underrated WR Josh Vann returned for his final season to give the Gamecocks three legitimate SEC receivers in the starting rotation, and two tight ends (Jaheim Bell, Stogner) who would play for any team in the conference.
This is the offense Beamer and Satterfield envisioned when they arrived in Columbia. This is why South Carolina, despite the toughest schedule in the SEC, will be a difficult out for everyone.
“Why not go somewhere and build a winning tradition?” Rattler said. “Show you can help change an organization. Why not do that? That’s what I wanted to help prove can be done.”
4. On the move
We’re 2 weeks from the May 1 transfer portal deadline to be eligible for the 2022 season, and this could be the most intriguing 14 days of the offseason.
“There will be blatant tampering going on,” one SEC coach told me. “There will be coaches reaching out to guys on current rosters, asking them if they’re happy, or if they’re interested in transferring. This kind of thing happened before (the transfer portal), but it’s more dangerous now because of immediate eligibility.”
Or, as another SEC coach said, “Before (the portal), the idea of sitting (out a year) was the greatest detriment. Now the door is wide open.”
One player who will more than likely be contacted is Georgia backup QB Carson Beck. He looked sharp in Saturday’s G-Day game and would likely start for a majority of FBS schools.
There’s still uncertainty in the LSU quarterback room, too. Myles Brennan, Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier and freshman Walker Howard are all competing. Howard isn’t leaving, nor likely is Daniels.
But that doesn’t mean Brennan — who has been the most consistent of the group in spring practice — or Nussmeier won’t leave, especially if there’s a chance to play right away at a Power 5 school.
5. The Weekly Five
Five reasons for concern, post-spring: Alabama
1. The wide receivers are as big an unknown since Year 1 of the Saban era Tuscaloosa.
2. A shaky (at best) offensive line full of 4- and 5-star recruits needs Vanderbilt transfer Tyler Steen – the 1,177th ranked player in the 2018 class according to the 247Sports composite — to start at tackle. Read that again.
3. Remember the Auburn game of 2021? QB Bryce Young must be prepared for more of that in 2022.
4. LSU transfer Eli Ricks, who has battled injuries over his brief career, is one corner. The other outside corner and nickel corner won’t be set until August camp.
5. Backup QB Jalen Milroe is a dynamic athlete. Can he be a consistent thrower should Young (see: shaky offensive line) miss time?
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Kentucky C Luke Fortner.
“He can play anywhere in the middle, and he has a high football IQ. Really like the way he plays. Good feet and bend, uses his hands smartly. He plays like a pro right now. Just very smart and very aware. That’s a war every single play in the middle. He has a frame to add more bulk, and he already understands leverage. He has good extension, and can slide and scrape. He’s a long-term guy in the middle. He’s one of those guys you get in the 2nd or 3rd round, and he ends up playing 8-10 years for you. Love the way he plays, and he’s a high-character guy. He’ll be very successful in this league.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: ranking the defensive coordinators.
1. Will Muschamp, Georgia. Say what you want about Muschamp, the HC. He can flat out coach defense (with co-DC Glenn Schumann).
2. Barry Odom, Arkansas: An Xs and Os scheme junkie, and more than that, a critical sounding board for Hogs head coach Sam Pittman.
3. Zach Arnett, Mississippi State: Learned under one of the best to ever do it (Rocky Long). Turned down Texas and LSU last year to stay at Mississippi State.
4. DJ Durkin, Texas A&M: Three prior years as DC at CFB heavyweights: 2013 Florida (21.1 ppg.), 2014 Florida (21.1 ppg.), 2015 Michigan (16.4 ppg.).
5. Pete Golding, Alabama: Coaching or players responsible for Tide defensive regression from dominant early years? Likely both.
6. Brad White, Kentucky: The former bank portfolio manager has become an elite DC.
7. Matt House, LSU: Returns to the SEC (was at UK) in a more prominent, pressure-packed role.
8. Tim Banks, Tennessee: Successful at every stop in a long FBS career. Vols need a talent upgrade, and UT’s blur-ball offense isn’t easy on defenses with quick 3-and-outs.
9. Clayton White, South Carolina: A solid résumé at WKU and South Carolina’s 23 forced turnovers in 2021 are hope for more with increased talent.
10. Patrick Toney, Florida: A Pete Golding and Ron Roberts (Baylor DC) protégé. How will he adjust in his first big job?
11. Nick Howell, Vanderbilt: DC for Bronco Mendenhall at BYU and Virginia, and widely respected in the coaching fraternity. A huge hire for Clark Lea.
12. Blake Baker, Missouri: Dealt with difficult situations in past 2 jobs (DC, Miami; co-DC, LSU). Missouri’s struggles the past 2 seasons won’t be overwhelming.
13. Maurice Crum, Ole Miss: Hit and miss at WKU. Can’t be hit and miss in the SEC West.
14. Jeff Schmedding, Auburn: Longtime FCS assistant (Eastern Washington) was Bryan Harsin’s DC at Boise State, and Auburn’s linebackers coach in 2021.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: I watched the Florida spring game and loved what I saw from the offense. Anthony Richardson will be special, and he looks much more confident. What’s your assessment? — Paul Franci, Miami.
Paul: One thing stood out: a lack of speed on both sides of the ball. That, more than anything, is how former coach Dan Mullen’s struggles in recruiting significantly impacted the program.
The Gators have no one on the outside who can run past a defense vertically, and they don’t have speed at tight end to stress the middle of the field. The running backs have potential (including Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson), but none in the rotation has game-breaking speed.
The one player on offense who can run – more than likely as fast as anyone on the current roster – is Richardson. But that can’t be what he’s about. More to the point: It can’t be what the offense is about.
Richardson looked good in a controlled scrimmage against a vanilla defense while running a vanilla offense. That’s to be expected in spring games. I saw one series where the offense ran some unique pass concepts, specifically one play inside the 10 with a motion misdirection slant.
The read was there, and the play was executed flawlessly. The throw, though, was tipped at the line of scrimmage. There’s plenty of work ahead on both sides of the ball.
13. Yes, it’s spring practice. And oftentimes spring practice stars fade in the fall. But Chris Braswell may have finally made his move at Alabama.
The former 5-star recruit in 2020 played so well this spring, Saban spoke about him as part of a 3-man rotation at OLB/Edge with 1. the best player in college football (Will Anderson), and 2. the next great edge rusher at Alabama (Dallas Turner).
Braswell had 13 tackles last season as a reserve and has barely made a dent in his 2 seasons in Tuscaloosa. That will change this fall for the former No. 17 overall recruit (247Sports composite).
10. Quote to note
Alabama coach Nick Saban on Georgia Tech transfer TB Jahmyr Gibbs: “Fast is fast.”