Oklahoma football: Which former Sooner QB is Dillon Gabriel most like?

OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws a pass during practice on Aug. 10 in Norman.cover small or cutout
OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws a pass during practice on Aug. 10 in Norman.cover small or cutout /

One game does not win a championship and it surely isn’t a big enough sample size to establish a predictable pattern, but what we see on Saturday from the enigma known as 2022 Oklahoma football, and particularly new Sooner QB Dillon Gabriel, will provide some strong insight.

The Sooners host the Miners of UTEP in the 2022 season opener, and it will mark the debut of Brent Venables as the 23rd head coach of OU football as well as Central Florida transfer Gabriel at the Sooner quarterback position.

Gabriel brings plenty of experience to the position. While he is new to the Sooners’ roster, this will be his fourth season at the highest college football level. In two-plus seasons at UCF, Gabriel threw for over 8,000 yards and 70 touchdowns. That should whet the appetites of Oklahoma fans even more when they factored in all the offensive weapons Gabriel will have at his disposal at OU.

Gabriel also isn’t new to Jeff Lebby and the offense the new Sooner offensive coordinator likes to run. Gabriel was the freshman starting quarterback at UCF in 2019, when Lebby was the offensive coordinator.

The string of recent quarterbacks who have made big headlines and brought home some heavy hardware in directing the vaunted Oklahoma offense is highly impressive and somewhat of an intimidation factor for the next man up in the starting role.

Over the last two decades, Oklahoma has seen the likes of Josh Heupel, Jason White, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Baker Mayfield, Kylar Murray and Jalen Hurts take the quarterback reins and lead the Sooners to great heights. Among that group are four Heisman Trophy winners, two Heisman runners-up and the Oklahoma career passing leader.

The expectations and pressure on any OU quarterback who follows all that has to be through the roof. Spencer Rattler came in as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2019 class. In his second season at OU, Rattler earned the starting role. Halfway through the 2021 season, Rattler lost his starting role to another No. 1 quarterback recruit, Caleb Williams. Both are now gone from Oklahoma, exiting via the transfer portal, and the starting role is now Gabriel’s, himself a traveler on the transfer highway.

None of that seems to bother or intimidate Gabriel. He has played in big games, has the experience and, importantly, the confidence in himself and what he can do.

Venables said one of strongest qualities he has seen in Gabriel since the transfer QB has been at OU is his natural leadership ability, something that cannot be underestimated in a starting quarterback.

“He’s a natural leader,” Venables said in a recent press conference. “Guys follow him. It’s very easy. He’s the first person to show up and the last one to leave. He’s hard on himself, very demeaning of himself. He’s an over-deliverer in everything.”

The OU head coach was recently asked which of the former Oklahoma star quarterbacks he would compare Gabriel to. In truth, Gabriel exhibits qualities from several of the recent Oklahoma quarterbacks.

“He (Gabriel) elevates everybody’s level of play,” Venables told Ross Lovelace, an OU insider for FanNation, which is affiliated with the Sports Illustrated network. “He’s a calmer-demeanor type of guy. He’s more like a Sam Bradford, if you will, than a Baker Mayfield. He’s quiet and kind of an assassin in his own way.”

Gabriel knows it’s a big deal to be quarterback at Oklahoma, Venables said. “He wants to represent the brand the right way, and he does every day,” he said.

That’s the kind of person and player you want to have at the quarterback position.