Spencer Rattler among newcomers ready to help South Carolina

ALEX HICKS JR./STAFF/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Spencer Rattler smiled broadly and sat up his chair thinking about South Carolina’s first game a month away.

“I’m just ready to go,” the ex-Oklahoma quarterback said. “It’s been some time since I played football, like, for real.”

Rattler, who led the Sooners to a Big 12 title in 2020, is among several high-profile transfers who’ve joined the Gamecocks in the offseason. Rattler believes he and the others can help the program build on a 7-6 mark in coach Shane Beamer‘s debut season.

“He’s preaching everything that’s right. He’s got this program going in the right direction,” said Rattler, who’s known Beamer since he was an assistant at Oklahoma. “We’re focused on day-by-day getting better.”

Rattler and his teammates reported for meetings and planning sessions before hitting the field for the first time.

For Rattler, the change of scenery has brought a chance to show he’s the leader who threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns two years ago ago instead of a starter who was benched in favor of Caleb Williams midway through the season.

Tight end Austin Stogner, Rattler’s teammate at Oklahoma and now South Carolina, was on a December visit with Beamer researching his own transfer plans when he encouraged the quarterback to consider the Gamecocks.

“Now, we’re both here,” Stogner said.

And Stogner’s not the only addition. Tailback Christian Beal-Smith joined South Carolina after gaining 1,254 yards and 11 touchdowns the past two seasons with Wake Forest. Receiver Corey Rucker transferred from Arkansas State, where he caught 59 passes for 826 yards and nine touchdowns.

The group, which also includes Georgia runner Lovesea Carroll and North Carolina State defensive end Terrell Dawkins, had blended in nicely through spring and summer sessions, according to Beamer.

“We’re pretty far along,” Beamer said.

Part of that was the way Rattler and the others have kept their heads down to blend with their new teammates, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Satterfield said.

Rattler, a top-tier Heisman Trophy candidate for the Sooners this time a year ago, could’ve flaunted his celebrity or talked up his accomplishments at his new location.

“But he had the discipline to not rub anybody the wrong way,” Satterfield said.

Offensive lineman Dylan Wonnum seconds that. He sits next to Rattler in team meetings and has found a friendly player already invested in being a strong teammate. “He came in humble,” Wonnum said.

Beal-Smith, at 23 and a grad transfer, has also let his work habits do the talking, said running backs coach Montario Hardesty.

“He’s been there to listen to the younger guys and he’s been ready to help,” said Hardesty, the former 1,000-yard rusher at Tennessee.

Rattler has liked what he’s seen of South Carolina’s skill group. The bonding that started in spring workouts has continued into the summer and Rattler is confident he’ll connect with them through the season.

It took Rattler a little time to shake off going from Heisman hopeful for a College Football Playoff contender last August to someone who mopped up in Sooner blowouts the second half of last season.

“I don’t have to try and prove anything, just get ready to play with these guys,” he said. “That’s the focus.”

South Carolina’s offense used four starting quarterbacks, including former graduate assistant coach Zeb Noland, because of injuries and inconsistencies. The Gamecocks were next to last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense (22.6 points a game) and pass offense (201.2 yards a game).

Rattler believes he can bring some stability and perspective to the position after what he went through a year ago.

“I’ve learned a lot, being a quarterback, going through the (transfer) portal, going through adversity, it’s made me realize a lot of different things and see things differently,” he said. “Other than that, I’m the same guy ready to work and have fun.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.