The consensus top two quarterbacks prospects entering the season were Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma and Sam Howell of North Carolina. The likely script for both was simple: Each would have banner campaigns and enter the NFL draft after their junior seasons. The only mysteries were which one would win the Heisman Trophy and which would go first in the NFL draft.
But sometimes the script gets torn up. Halfway through the seasons for Sooners and Tar Heels, things look very different.
Rattler struggled through his first four games that culminated with his home fans booing him in a win against West Virginia. He appeared to resolve those issues last week against Kansas State. Then came a terrible first half against Texas that saw him commit two turnovers and Oklahoma trail 28-7. Rattler (8-for-15 for 111 yards passing, one interception) was benched and freshman Caleb Williams led the Sooners to a memorable comeback win, leaving doubt about whether Rattler is even the starter next week.
There’s no doubt about Howell as the starter for North Carolina right now, though something is clearly amiss after the Tar Heels were handled Saturday by Florida State at home, dropping them to 3-3 on the season.
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Howell was 17-for-32 for 203 yards and two touchdowns, which looked better with stats from two drives that came after North Carolina fell behind 35-17 in the fourth quarter. Thought to be the biggest contender to Clemson, the Tar Heels are well back in the ACC Coastal and still must host Wake Forest and go on the road to North Carolina State.
The Heisman is clearly an afterthought for these two. Being taken in the first round of the draft, once considered inevitable, is now uncertain. Could that lead Rattler to transfer or Howell to stay in Chapel Hill? What was unthinkable before the season is now possible.
Time to start believing in Kentucky
Sometimes, it is more impressive what you do after your big upset victory. The Wildcats took down Florida last week, but it was also a game the Gators outgained them 382-224. So there were some significant questions for Kentucky with LSU coming to town. Was the win a fluke? Would the Tigers bounce back after their loss to Auburn?
Neither would prove to be true as the Wildcats bludgeoned the visitors all night in a 42-21 win, running for 330 yards in a dominant performance that saw them lead 35-7 into the fourth quarter before a couple of cosmetic scores by LSU.
The sad part is that Kentucky won’t have much to celebrate with a trip to soon-to-be No. 1 Georgia up next. It’s going to take a massive effort to win. The way this season has gone and the way the unbeaten Wildcats are playing, you have to give them some chance.
Another rough loss, but hope for Nebraska
If there were an award for the team with the toughest losses this season, the Cornhuskers would be the easy winner.
The latest disappointment came when they rallied to take a late lead against Michigan before a late fumble by quarterback Adrian Martinez set up a game-winning field goal for the Wolverines in a 32-29 loss. Nebraska’s previous two losses against Oklahoma and Michigan State came by seven and three points, respectively, with the one to the Spartans coming in overtime. So that’s losses to three of the remaining 11 unbeatens in college football by a combined 13 points.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost said after the Michigan game that he believed his team was close to turning things around. Sometimes that’s just coach-speak you can’t take seriously. In this case, you have to believe Frost given how well his team has played. The good and bad news is that the Cornhuskers will get two more visits from teams ranked in the top 10 — Ohio State and Iowa — so the opportunity is there for that signature win.
Arizona State looks like the class of the Pac-12
Things didn’t look so great for the Sun Devils after their loss to BYU in their third game that was marked by four turnovers and uneven play. With high expectations and an NCAA investigation hanging over their head, the season could have gone a negative direction.
Instead, it’s been the opposite. Arizona State has reeled off three wins to start its conference schedule, including Friday’s impressive defeat of Stanford one week after the Cardinal took down Oregon. The offense behind talented quarterback Jayden Daniels has averaged more than 36 points in the victories.
A trip to Utah next week looks like it will be decisive in the South division race. The way the Sun Devils are playing, you have to like their chances in Salt Lake City and a possible meeting with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game should they meet.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell might not be who we thought they were