Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell came into the 2021 college football season with Heisman Trophy ambitions and hopes of being drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Both campaigns got off to shaky starts.

Rattler and Howell each threw multiple interceptions. No. 2 Oklahoma barely escaped with a home win against unranked Tulane and No. 10 UNC lost on the road to Virginia Tech as the offense sputtered out of the gate.

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Of course, it is well too early to be getting too low on these quarterbacks. Both players have received plenty of hype for good reason, including past seasons of success, and they have demonstrated that their skills are NFL-caliber.

But let’s just take a look at how each one fared in their season debuts:

PlayerComp-AttPassing YardsPassing TDsIntsCarriesRushing YardsRushing TDs
Sam Howell17-322081313350
Spencer Rattler30-3930412891

Rattler nearly had three interceptions as one was called back due to a dubious pass interference call. And his team nearly lost to its Conference USA foe. The Green Wave had possession late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead over Oklahoma before they turned it over on downs with the Sooners eventually winning 40-35.

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Virginia Tech is a tough road environment, but Howell and the Tar Heels looked lathargic on offense in a 17-10 loss. He wasn’t helped by his offensive line as he was sacked six times and was forced to scramble on several plays, but he should have been able to put up more points on a team that allowed 32.1 points per game in 2020.

What will these two quarterbacks need to do to turn it around? 

Rattler struggled early in 2020 as well when he threw three interceptions against Kansas State in Week 2 and another one the following week against Iowa State in Oklahoma’s only two losses of the season. He settled down and finished a strong season with 3,031 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

On Saturday, Rattler sailed several passes when he tried to force them into an overmatched Tulane defense. He’ll need to improve his decision-making on when to try and force a throw downfield and when to try and throw them out of bounds or take off down the field. 

For Howell, this season could require some readjusting. His two favorite targets from last season, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, are no longer with the team. He seemed to establish a solid connection with Josh Downs, who caught eight of nine targets for 123 yards and a touchdown, but he struggled to find Emery Simmons, who caught just three of nine targets for 46 yards. Khafre Brown, who returns the most receiving yards from a year ago at 337, was targeted once and did not register a catch.

Howell set the record for the most passing touchdowns in UNC history with his 69th on Friday and his 68 touchdown passes coming into the year were already the most for an ACC quarterback in his first two seasons. He’s already found plenty of success and just needs to get back in the groove with a few new faces.

Plenty of future first-round quarterbacks struggled in their first week the season before leaving for the draft. Josh Allen went 23-for-40 with 174 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in 2017. Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions and no touchdowns in 2003.

As for Heisman chances, well, that’s a bit more complicated. Since 2000, only three Heisman-winning quarterbacks threw an interception in their first game (Eric Crouch, 2001; Carson Palmer, 2002; Jason White, 2003). Johnny Manziel is the only quarterback to lose his season-opener, and he, Crouch and Palmer are the only eventual winners to not throw multiple touchdown passes.