ATLANTA — Jalen Hurts' final collegiate pass could have been a touchdown.
With 3:51 remaining in No. 4 Oklahoma's 63-28 loss to LSU, the senior quarterback fired a bomb down the field on first and 10 to junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who had a step on an LSU defensive back. Lamb could have gone for 6 if he'd caught it, but the ball slipped through his fingertips, and Hurts trotted to the sideline for the final time.
Stepping into his place under center was freshman Spencer Rattler, the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2019 according to Rivals.com. Rattler has spent the season as the third-stringer behind Hurts and redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai, but he is widely seen as next in line to be the starter in coach Lincoln Riley's quarterback factory next season.
In Rattler's first two plays, he gave hope to a devastated Sooner crowd as he threw an 8-yard completion to freshman receiver Jadon Haselwood, then scrambled for an 8-yard gain.
It wasn't hope to win the game. That had been long gone in the Tigers' dominating performance. It was hope for the coming years — a time that has the potential to deliver the best team Riley has fielded in Norman.
"I wasn't fully warm, but I was comfortable out there," Rattler said. "Coach Riley put me in a good situation. There was only a couple minutes left in the game, but we did what we had to do. Like I said, I'm just ready to really play."
Rattler signed with Oklahoma in December 2018, roughly a month before Hurts transferred from Alabama and became the presumptive starter for the 2019 season.
In his year of backing up Hurts, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, Rattler has had time to learn and grow under a seasoned veteran in Hurts, and to acclimate himself to Riley's high-powered offense.
But the Rattler era began on Saturday in Atlanta, and the lessons he's learned from Hurts and the rest of the upperclassmen are now his to take and lead the Sooners with.
"Of course this loss is tough on all of us, and that's what we're thinking about right now," Rattler said. "We had a great team this season, but like I said, a lot of the young guys in my class, we've learned a lot from these seniors. We hope to continue that legacy and get better throughout the years."
At Rattler's disposal will be an array of equally highly touted weapons. Along with Haselwood, the No. 1 receiver in the 2019 class, former five-star wide receivers Theo Wease Jr. and Trejan Bridges will return with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Charleston Rambo, and former five-star freshman tight end Austin Stogner will likely step into a starting role next season.
After the Sooners transitioned toward the end of the season into a run-focused offense, Riley will have the ability to return to his pass-happy roots with the talent he has coming back next year.
"I'm super excited, like honestly I can't wait for next year," Haselwood said. "I just feel like we're just back to square one, when we were throwing in the facilities the first day we got here. We're just going to get back to work."
And the time to get to work for Haselwood and his teammates starts now, as the young Sooners are ready for their time to lead in Norman.
Sooner Nation has gotten a brief taste of what the Spencer Rattler era could look like, and if he continues to deliver, Oklahoma could remain one of college football's dominant programs.
"I'm looking forward to just getting better with the team," Rattler said. "We're trying to take this team to new levels. We made it far this year, and we plan to make it further next year and the years after. We're not where want to be yet, but I hope we can work hard enough and prepare hard enough, and I know we will."