Dillon Gabriel might well turn out to be best Sooner quarterback this century

Dillon Gabriel (8) is pictured at University of Oklahoma media day on OU campus in Norman on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.Ou Media Day 27
Dillon Gabriel (8) is pictured at University of Oklahoma media day on OU campus in Norman on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.Ou Media Day 27 /

Over the past decade — and even in the decade before that — the Oklahoma football program had produced some of the best quarterbacks in college football.

In fact, under Lincoln Riley, OU seized claim to the title as Quarterback U. Two Heisman winners and a Heisman runner-up played under Riley at OU. With that reputation, Riley was able to attract the top quarterback recruits in the country while at Oklahoma.

Riley is gone now and so are the two former No. 1 quarterback recruits (Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams) he had a huge hand in bringing to OU, both exiting via the transfer portal after Riley’s departure. The next Sooner starting quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, also comes by way of the transfer route, brought to Norman through the persuasive efforts of new OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Lebby was the OC at Central Florida in Gabriel’s freshman season in 2019. That season, Lebby and Gabriel engineered a UCF offense that ranked second in the nation among FBS teams, averaging 540 yards of total offense. UCF was eighth in the country that season in passing yards.

Now Gabriel is at Oklahoma, and he brings two-plus college seasons of experience with him. He started 25 of 26 games at UCF, completing 60 percent of his passes for a total of 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions. He has thrown at least one touchdown in all 26 games, at least two touchdown passes in 20 games and as many as four TDs in seven contests. His 156.7 passing efficiency rating ranks seventh nationally among quarterbacks who have played the past three seasons.

This is Gabriel’s fifth college season, but he played a full season just two of those years, leaving him with three more years of eligibility should he choose to use it. Gabriel is an experienced quarterback who has taken a lot of snaps in Lebby’s up-tempo style of offense. This in itself is a huge step forward in Gabriel’s transition to the quarterback spot at Oklahoma.

With the offensive weapons he will have at his disposal at Oklahoma, Gabriel has the skills and experience to put up even more impressive numbers. And if the Hawaiian native lives up to those high expectations the Sooners could be on their way to a 15th Big 12 championship and a fifth trip to the College Football Playoff.

Gabriel was a huge find for the Sooners, who were left with just a couple of quarterbacks on the roster after Williams and Rattler left, only one of which had taken as many as two snaps in an actual game. Since then, however, OU has added a highly touted freshman (Nick Evers) and a two other quarterbacks through the transfer portal (Davis Beville from Pittsburgh and General Booty from Tyler (Texas) Junior College to add much-needed depth to the quarterback room.

Keeping Gabriel healthy is obviously a high priority. Following in the recent pattern of Sooner quarterbacks, Gabriel is a preseason contender for the 2022 Heisman Trophy.

Regardless of how this season’s Heisman race turns out, if Gabriel can avoid injury and he remains at Oklahoma for two or more seasons, he could easily put up some huge numbers and find himself right up there with the best signal callers in Sooner football history.

He could also find himself in a position to do something the recent Oklahoma Heisman-winning quarterbacks could not do: win a game in the College Football Playoff and possibly a national championship.

Something like that — aside from providing a spectacular start to the Brent Venables era of Oklahoma football — would give the Sooners an even stronger claim to the honorific status of QB-U.