Oklahoma football: Where does Sooners' Jackson Arnold rank among 2024 SEC QBs?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 has been a quarterback-driven conference for quite a few years and the Oklahoma football program for the past nine seasons and the better part of the past two decades.

Since OU's 2000 national championship season, four Sooner quarterbacks have been awarded the Heisman Trophy and two others were Heisman runners-up.

The past two seasons, Dillon Gabriel has been the man behind center for the Sooners, and he was an All-Big 12 First-Team selection last season. But Gabriel transferred to Oregon after the 2023 season, and former five-star quarterback recruit Jackson Arnold assumes the starting role this coming season.

Gabriel has moved on and so too have the Sooners, who this summer become official members of the all-powerful SEC.

As SEC expands to 16 teams beginning in 2024, it is another power conference loaded with outstanding quarterback play. Seven of the past nine Heisman winners have come from Oklahoma and the SEC, and only two of those were non-quarterbacks.

The top teams in the SEC are where they are largely because of consistently good and smart quarterback performance: Carson Beck at Georgia, former USC transfer Jaxson Dart at Ole Miss and Jalon Milroe, who will be the second-year starter at Alabama. Brady Cook had a breakout year at Missouri last season. Quinn Ewers, who helped lead Texas to the College Football Playoff last season, comes to the SEC in 2024 along with the Longhorns.

Pretty much everywhere you look, up and down the SEC, their are experienced quarterbacks manning the position. Former Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen, a two-year starter for the Bears, will be the starter this season at Mississippi State, Diego Pavia comes to Vanderbilt this season from New Mexico State, where last season he led the Lobos to second place in Conference USA and a 31-10 win over Auburn. And former Oklahoma five-star commit Brock Vandergriff takes the reins at Kentucky.

OU's Arnold is a year or two behind the other SEC starting QBs in terms of experience and actual playing time, but he comes into his debut season as a starter with especially high expectations. He got his his college start in the Sooners' Alamo Bowl appearance last season. The former Gatorade National Player of the Year out of Denton Guyer High School had a good showing in Oklahoma's Alamo Bowl loss to Arizona. He passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions.

John Williams of the Oklahoma-dedicated website Sooners Wire, affiliated with USA Today, has done a pre-spring ranking of the anticipated SEC quarterback starters for next season. Williams ranks Arnold No. 7 out of the 16 SEC QBs next season. The six ranked higher than OU's starter are No. 1 Beck Georgia), No. 2 Dart (Ole Miss), Milroe (Alabama), Ewers (Texas), Cook (Missouri) and Conner Weigman (Texas A&M).

Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby was instrumental in recruiting Arnold, but Lebby is now gone, having accepted the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley. both former OU players, now share that responsibility for the Sooners. Littrell, who is an excellent playcaller in his own stead, has seen improvements in Arnold in the short time he has been on the job.

"There's been a ton of growth," Littrell said during his Alamo Bowl press conference. "I think Jackson is one of those guys that is going to compete every single day with himself and get a day better."

Much of Arnold's success in his and Oklahoma's inaugural season in the SEC will depend on OU's ability to reload an offensive line that lost four starters off of the 2023 team. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh hit the transfer portal hard in the offseason and has brought in five transfers with college game experience along with an outstanding crop of talented freshmen.

Arnold was recruited as the Sooners' quarterback of the future in Brent Venables' first recruiting class in 2022. He's carrying huge expectations on his shoulders, but he also will be performing in a lot of big games with the opportunity for huge national exposure to show what he is made of and why he is well worth his top-three QB ranking in the class of 2022.