After two seasons as the quarterback of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Spencer Rattler declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday afternoon. The Phoenix, Arizona native had a remarkable time in Columbia and etched his name in the South Carolina record books. He will have a chance to be the first Gamecock quarterback drafted in over 30 years. As the fanbase reflects on the past two years, where to place Rattler in the echelon of Carolina QBs becomes a debate. Names like Steve Taneyhill, Todd Ellis, Stephen Garcia, and Connor Shaw make up some of the most notable names in school history. Rattler’s natural ability certainly brings him into the conversation. However, ability does not always equate to greatness. So, where does Rattler rank amongst the greatest Gamecock quarterbacks? Let’s take a deeper look.
— Spencer Rattler (@SpencerRattler) November 29, 2023
By the Numbers
In just two seasons, Rattler ranks fifth in total passing yards as a Gamecock. In 2023, he rose to third in single-season passing yards with 3,186. He also grabbed the number one spot in single-game touchdowns with six against Tennessee in 2022. Although Rattler climbed these statistical categories in only two seasons at South Carolina, his efficiency also stands out. He is number one in school history in completion percentage among quarterbacks who threw more than 50 passes. He eclipsed the winningest quarterback in Gamecocks’ history, Shaw, to take the number one spot.
With many statistical categories making a strong argument for Rattler’s ranking among Gamecock quarterbacks, especially considering his short tenure, one category ultimately matters. The former number-one recruit went just 13-12 over two seasons as the Carolina quarterback. For reference, before Rattler, Shaw was widely considered the greatest quarterback in school history. While Shaw does not hold any passing yardage records, he was the highest completion percentage holder prior to Rattler. He also holds the record for the most touchdowns scored by any Gamecock football player. Shaw stands out, having never lost a home game as a starter (17-0) and boasting a 27-5 overall record as the Gamecocks signal caller.
Stats are compelling, but they do not always tell the full story. Sometimes quarterbacks can use sheer will and leadership ability to keep teams focused and put them in the best positions to win. Rattler has been commended for walking through much adversity with grace and determination over two seasons. He also helped end some losing streaks for the Gamecocks by securing wins against Texas A&M and Kentucky (twice). However, two games stand out in Rattler’s career.
At the end of the 2022 season, the Gamecocks faced two top-10 opponents. The first was an explosive Tennessee team under the lights at Williams-Brice. Rattler set the record for passing touchdowns in one game with six. He threw for 438 yards on 30 for 37 passing. The Gamecocks won the game 63-38 and secured one of the biggest upsets in the football program’s history.
Following the massive victory against Tennessee, the Gamecocks traveled to play rival Clemson, who had beaten South Carolina seven consecutive times. After a couple of early mistakes, Rattler made plays, and the team rallied to break the streak. The rivalry between these two teams is heated. So much so that any quarterback who beats Clemson is automatically elevated in status among the fanbase. Since Rattler’s victory against the Tigers ended such a lengthy streak, the win carries even more weight.
While Rattler landed two massive victories in 2022, the team failed to secure many signature wins in 2023. Aside from extending the streak against Kentucky to two wins, there were no noteworthy victories, and the Gamecocks fell to Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Clemson. Once again, compared to Shaw, the significant wins don’t add up. Shaw’s teams went 2-1 against Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. Shaw also never lost to Clemson and went 3-0 in bowl games.
What Defines Greatness
In terms of sheer athletic ability and skills to play the quarterback position, Rattler is at the top of the list of any quarterback who has ever worn the garnet and black. Calling Rattler the best or most talented quarterback in Gamecocks history is not met with much opposition, but greatest brings another element. To be the greatest, wins are necessary. Rattler’s career in the NFL will likely outshine every signal caller to ever come through Columbia, SC. His draft position, which can estimated in the second or third round, will be far ahead of the last Gamecock QB drafted (Ellis, Ninth round, 1990). However, signature wins are needed in abundance to be the greatest Gamecock.
Post-season play must also play a role in the discussion. Shaw was 3-0 in bowl games. Rattler was 0-1, having missed a bowl this season. Looking at the respective teams’ rosters shows that Rattler did more with less this year, and Shaw benefited from a talented, well-rounded roster on both sides of the ball. However, the overall success of the team still matters. In 2024 and beyond, Gamecocks quarterbacks will have their greatness evaluated based on appearances in the 12-team College Football Playoff. No quarterback has taken South Carolina to that level of post-season success. Although Shaw’s 2013 team, the season before the College Football Playoff began, finished the season ranked fourth in the country.
Where Rattler Stands
So, it’s safe to say that Shaw is still the greatest Gamecock quarterback, but Rattler has cemented his image on the Mount Rushmore of Carolina QBs. His natural ability, leadership off the field, and signature wins will not be forgotten by fans in the Palmetto State. Rattler’s legacy will only grow as he finds success in the NFL. Greatest is taking it too far, but to call Rattler the best Gamecock quarterback ever fits him perfectly.