Oklahoma football: Dillon Gabriel ranked No. 1 among Big 12 QBs for 2022

Sep 17, 2021; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) throws a pass against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated Central Florida 42-35. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2021; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) throws a pass against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated Central Florida 42-35. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports /

For the last seven seasons — or the length of time Lincoln Riley was part of the Oklahoma football program — the best quarterback in the Big 12 has worn a Sooner uniform.

Some fans would probably take issue with that judgement, but it’s hard to argue against the likes of Baker Mayfield (2015-17), Kyler Murray (2017-18), Jalen Hurts (2019), Spencer Rattler (2020-21) and Caleb Williams (2021). We’re talking about two Heisman Trophy winners, a Heisman runner-up, and a pair of No. 1 quarterback recruits, who were both also in the Heisman conversation.

The one common thread that ran through all of those players was that Riley either coached or recruited them, and both in the case of the latter three.

But Riley is gone and so too are Rattler and Williams, both of whom had eligibility remaining at Oklahoma. Rattler transferred to South Carolina after Riley departed for USC (but that was expected to happen even if Riley had stayed in Norman). After a month of speculation, Williams confirmed what was practically a forgone conclusion all along. He joined his former OU coach at USC.

As a result, the Sooners were left with one scholarship quarterback on their roster.

Although when Caleb Williams officially made the move to enter the transfer portal on Jan. 3 and said returning to Oklahoma was still an option, new Brent Venables knew better. The new Sooner head coach was wise to the notion that you don’t enter the portal if you are happy and satisfied where you are.

Literally just a couple of hours after Williams’ declaration, the Sooners had themselves a veteran quarterback coming the other way through the transfer portal. Former UCF starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who had committed to UCLA and was just one day from enrolling for the spring semester, reversed his decision and accepted the offer to come to Oklahoma. Had he enrolled at UCLA, he would have been ineligible to transfer to Oklahoma without sitting out the 2022 season.

Even before Williams entered the transfer portal, the Sooners had gained the 2022 commitment of four-star prospect Nick Evers, who was originally committed to Florida.

The OU quarterback room for next season also includes former Penn State transfer Micah Bowens and walk-on Ralph Rucker.  Bowen was with the Sooners last season but did not play a down and is still classified as a redshirt freshman.

Given all the movement in the Oklahoma quarterback situation since the news that Riley was jumping ship for the presumably safer environs of the USC and the Pac-12, it would be reasonable to assume that the Sooners will take a step down in quarterback play in the coming season.

I can assure you that Sooner head coach Brent Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby aren’t thinking that way, and at least one third-party media source shares that line of thinking.

Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan has projected who the presumptive starting quarterbacks will be for all 10 Big 12 teams in the 2022 season and ranked them, and he ranked Gabriel as the top quarterback in the Big 12 entering the new season.

Gabriel is also one of three presumed QB starters who have transferred in for the coming season.

Lassan ranked Spencer Sanders of Oklahoma State as No. 2, followed by Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers at Texas, Gerry Bohannon at Baylor and Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez at Kansas State.

Rounding out the Big 12 quarterback rankings are TCU”s Max Duggan No. 6, Texas Tech’s Donovan Smith, Kansas’ Jalon Daniels, Hunter Dekkers at Iowa State and Nicco Marchiol at West Virginia.

A couple of reasons why Gabriel comes to Oklahoma with such high expectations are:

  • He was one of the top quarterbacks available in the transfer portal (second probably to Caleb Williams).
  • He has had as much, if not more, starting experience than any of his Big 12 counterparts, and his numbers are more impressive in comparison.

In two-plus seasons as the starter at UCF (where former OU All-American Josh Heupel was his head coach), Gabriel threw for 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions.

His sophomore season in 2020, Gabriel led the nation in passing yards per game (357.0 yards per game) and ranked third in total offense (373.9 yards per game).

Right after he had committed to Oklahoma, Gabriel told Josh Helmer of Sooners Wire, and OU sports blog affiliated with the USA Today network:

"“It was a chance to play with a really good team. This school’s got a lot of history with quarterbacks, but also just with great players.”"

Another reason why Gabriel is a good fit at Oklahoma is his connection with the new offensive coordinator Lebby. Lebby recruited and coached Gabriel at UCF. Were it not for the strong relationship between Lebby and Gabriel, the Sooners probably wouldn’t have been able to pry Gabriel away from his UCLA commitment in such short notice. The quarterback was just a day or two away from enrolling at UCLA.

Is Gabriel an equal replacement for the loss of Williams?  The answer is no, but Gabriel was a very good quarterback at UCF, and his numbers bear that out. The expectation is that with the offensive weapons he will have at his disposal at Oklahoma he will be even better. He is an exceptionally strong pickup given the circumstances, and he has three years of eligibility remaining should he elect to use it.