The Oklahoma Sooners saw their future at quarterback change dramatically in a matter of hours Monday.
First, promising freshman Caleb Williams entered the transfer portal.
OU then secured a commitment from ex-Central Florida QB Dillon Gabriel, who previously announced his intentions to transfer to UCLA.
They say life’s a gamble like rolling the dice… DIMETIME pic.twitter.com/8xGNDWjaR3— Dillon Gabriel (@_dillongabriel_) January 4, 2022
Williams hinted this move was coming after OU’s 47-32 win in the Alamo Bowl over the Oregon Ducks, and it clearly puts his status with OU in doubt. However, he did leave open the option to come back to the Sooners. Entering the portal allows other schools to contact him in accordance with NCAA rules. As such, the Sooners can essentially re-recruit Williams now along with a number of other QB-needy teams.
But will they? Williams’ announcement prompted an uncharacteristic statement from OU head coach Brent Venables and athletic director Joe Castiglione about their hopes that the QB would remain with the program.
Statement from Joe Castiglione and Brent Venables on today’s announcement by Caleb Williams: pic.twitter.com/qGHlDqIDp2— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) January 3, 2022
That could signal OU is hedging its bets by accepting Gabriel’s commitment while waiting for Williams to make a call on his future. Alternatively, Venables and Castiglione may just want it on the record for fans of the program that they made an effort to keep the freshman thrower in Norman.
Either way, Gabriel gives the Sooners a strong alternative at QB. New OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby coached the Hawaii native during Gabriel’s freshman season in 2019 at UCF. The rookie played in all 13 games of a 10-3 season for the Knights, finishing 13th nationally in passer rating. With Lebby gone to Ole Miss, Gabriel finished 16th nationally in passer rating in 2020 while throwing 32 touchdowns and four interceptions in 10 games. A clavicle injury cut his 2021 campaign short after just three games.
Overall, Gabriel has started 25 games at QB in his career. He has thrown for roughly 8,000 yards and 70 TDs during that span. He possesses ample experience in Lebby’s offensive scheme and, in theory, can play three seasons at OU. Gabriel may lack Williams’ upside, but the Sooners can still do plenty of damage with him behind center.
As for Williams, frankly, there isn’t much new ground to cover. The explosion of opportunities for college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness will undoubtedly lead to speculation that Williams is looking for a marketing payday. However, the QB’s father, Carl Williams, told Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports that “professional development” for the NFL is driving his son’s calculus. Note that while we don’t have solid data on what college players are earning from NIL deals, the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft, QB Trevor Lawrence, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars for $36.8 million, including $24 million guaranteed, over four years. (In other words, the real money comes at the next level.)
Assuming OU hasn’t given up on him staying in Norman, Venables and Lebby have to pitch Williams on how they plan to use him in Lebby’s offensive scheme. Lebby doesn’t have a long track record of developing NFL QBs – he has coached QBs for four years and served as offensive coordinator for a total of three years at Central Florida and Ole Miss. On the other hand, he did groom Ole Miss QB Matt Corral into a potential first-round pick this year.
As things currently stand, it seems highly likely the Sooners will enter Venables’ first season as head coach with Gabriel as the odds-on favorite to start at QB. Another twist or two in this story shouldn’t surprise anyone, though, given what has gone down around Norman in the last 12 months.