Gene Sapakoff is the oldest, fastest, hardest-hitting sports journalist in S.C. As columnist at The Post and Courier he covers Clemson, South Carolina and other interesting things. He likes food and has won the prestigious Judson Chapman Award 3 times.

Gator Bowl Preview Football (copy)

Spencer Rattler had eight touchdown passes through the Gamecocks' first 10 games this season but threw six against Tennessee on Nov. 19 and two at Clemson on Nov. 26, both upset wins. AP/Jacob Kupferman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Spencer Rattler is the main reason to believe South Carolina can beat Notre Dame in Friday’s Gator Bowl.

And whether he returns to the Gamecocks in 2023 or not presumably has a lot to do with how the team will fare in Shane Beamer’s third season as head coach.

While both theories border on the obvious after spectacular upsets of Tennessee and Clemson in the final two weeks of the regular season, there wasn’t much Rattler-based rationale as recently as the Volunteers-Gamecocks kickoff on Nov. 19.

But this is Jacksonville, where the contrast of Rattler’s incredibly short incredible run fits like a garnet glove in rare Florida chill. Almost aside TIAA Bank Field, the St. Johns River, unlike almost every other river in the country, flows north instead of south.

The NFL’s Jaguars are in first place in the AFC South, with a losing record.

It’s so Duval County — so Gamecocks — that the Gator Bowl itself probably isn’t as important as what Rattler says after the game.

Nineteenth-ranked South Carolina, at 8-4, has already overachieved this season, but losing the redshirt junior from Phoenix would leave the 2023 Gamecocks with a quarterback room full of inexperience, if Beamer can’t add a late transfer.

Rattler wasn’t biting on “decision” questions during South Carolina’s press conference Thursday featuring Beamer, Rattler, Dakereon Joyner, Jovaughn Gwyn, Eric Douglas and Brad Johnson at TIAA Bank Field.

No comment on whether or not he’s coming back.

No comment on whether the transfer portal is an option or if it’s strictly a South Carolina or NFL draft prep decision.

“No, the last thing I want to do is talk about my decisions,” Rattler said. “We’ve got a lot of guys up here ready to play (Friday). We’re focused, like I said, on the game, the task at hand.

“For all of us, our decisions after that will be made. Like I said, we're locked in on this game tomorrow.”

That’s Rattler as elusive and hard to contain as he was against Tennessee (six touchdown passes in a 63-38 romp) or at Clemson (two touchdown passes and a TD run in a 31-30 win).

Rattler: ‘This is family’

Present-day college football is just plain awkward.

Rattler, you might think, would let Beamer know what he’s thinking so they can add a veteran quarterback before South Carolina’s spring semester starts on Jan. 9. Players can transfer into the school after Jan. 9, but wouldn’t be eligible to participate in spring practice, almost a must for a quarterback aiming to start in the fall.

Rattler probably doesn’t know himself.

An exceptionally strong performance against No. 21 Notre Dame might greatly impact his NFL draft status or an NIL offer tied to another school. A poor outing might have major influence, too.

Then factor in a switch in offensive coordinators, Marcus Satterfield gone to Nebraska and Dowell Loggains hired from Arkansas. Plus, transfer losses such as Jaheim Bell and MarShawn Lloyd with wide receiver Juice Wells yet to decide on staying or leaving for the NFL draft.

Rattler is saying the loyal teammate-type things.

“We put in all this work throughout the season,” he said. “This is family; these are my brothers up here. Playing for Coach Beamer, we want to finish this thing out right for this season with this team.”

That work ethic

The Gamecocks have praised Rattler’s one-of-the-guys skills since he arrived as a glorified Oklahoma transfer in January.

“He came in, had his head down and he worked,” said Johnson, a sixth-year linebacker. “As soon as I saw that, he pretty much had my respect.”

NFL people are listening to this stuff.

Teammates stuck by when Rattler had a mere eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions through 10 games before Tennessee was installed as a 22½-point favorite.

After eight TD passes and two interceptions in the last two games, they like him even more.

The difference?

“Just hard work,” Rattler said. “Like coach Beamer says, staying consistent, knowing that time will come for all of us when it will just pop. We got hot towards the end of the season when it was most important. Like coach Beamer said, they remember November and that was our biggest month for us. That's why we’re here right now.

“I would say it clicked for all of us. We didn't really change too much, we just changed a few things and it worked out for us.”

Rattler at one point Thursday said he wants to “cap this thing off with a big game.”

A lot of Gamecock fans hope Rattler wants to start another South Carolina “thing” in September.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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