NORMAN — Dillon Gabriel stayed on Owen Field until every picture was taken, every neck was hugged Friday afternoon. Family. Friends. Fans. Pretty much anyone who approached the Sooner quarterback on the field after the game got time with him.
He looked like a guy enjoying his final game at OU.
He sounded, though, like a guy who might not have played his last game in Norman.
Asked after OU’s 69-45 demolition of TCU if he was returning for another season, Gabriel didn’t commit one way or the other.
“I truly believe God’s got a plan for everything in the future,” he said. “Just taking it one day at a time.”
Sooners everywhere should be doing cartwheels: Dillon Gabriel might be back for another season.
On Friday, we got a reminder of how big-time this guy is. On a day his status wasn’t publicly known until game time — we learned after the game he didn’t clear concussion protocol until Thursday — Gabriel turned in a gem of a performance. He threw for 400 yards and accounted for four touchdowns. He looked nothing like a guy who’d sat out pretty much all of practice this past week.
“I kinda forgot he was on the mend,” Sooner coach Brent Venables said.
It was easy to forget with the way Gabriel played. He came out sharp and crisp, throwing deep and hitting Nic Anderson for a 50-yard gain on the Sooners’ first offensive play. It was a sign of things to come.
OU scored touchdowns on six of its seven possessions in the first half.
Venables spent a bunch of time in his post-game press conference praising Gabriel, calling him as competitive and tough-minded a player as Venables has been around. Gushing about Gabriel’s accuracy and decision making. Preaching about how Gabriel makes everyone around him better.
“He’s got the multiplier effect,” Venables said.
So, I asked, why not lobby him to return for another year?
“Is he in here?” Venables said, glancing around the room. “We could have this conversation right now.”
“Everything has its time,” he said.
Listen, I understand the talk throughout the year has been that this is Gabriel’s final season. Venables himself has indicated as much a couple of different times, sometimes directly and other times in a roundabout way. Like when backup quarterback Jackson Arnold comes up, and Venables shares how much Gabriel has taught Arnold and how valuable that will be when Arnold takes over.
Gabriel went through Senior Day activities Friday, too.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t come back next season.
“He’s actually got another year,” Sooner offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. “He does.
“That’s something that we’ll talk through and I’m sure he’ll address, and we’ll see where we’re at moving forward.”
Where the Sooners are moving forward may have a lot to do with Lebby. His name has been mentioned repeatedly for the head coaching job at Mississippi State, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a known commodity in the Magnolia State, coordinating the Ole Miss offense before moving to OU, and he’s got a connection with Mississippi State athletic director Zac Selmon, who was Joe Castiglione’s right-hand man in Norman before moving to Starkville.
I’ve got no idea if any of that, plus Lebby’s offensive acumen, gets him the job, but let’s say it does. Wouldn’t it make sense that Arnold thinks about going with Lebby?
Or Kevin Sperry, the 2025 commit who plays at Carl Albert?
The Sooners could quickly go from set at quarterback for the foreseeable future to squishy at the position. But if Lebby goes and Gabriel returns, he’d provide all sorts of stability at quarterback, and he’d be able to be something of a player-mentor for a new offensive coordinator since he’s got so much college experience.
And heading into the SEC, having a quarterback who’s as experienced and talented as Gabriel would be huge for the Sooners.
Gallery: OU’s 69-45 win over TCU in pictures
Additionally, another year at OU would be a sure thing for Gabriel where going to the NFL doesn’t feel like it would be. Maybe he would be a high draft pick. Maybe he would become an NFL starter. Look at some of the quarterbacks who have been this season. Aidan O’Connell. Tim Boyle. Tommy DeVito. Difficult to believe Gabriel wouldn’t be as good as those guys.
But if he dips into later rounds or isn’t drafted at all, no roster spot is guaranteed. No paycheck either.
Seems the starting job and the name-image-likeness money at OU would be enticing to Gabriel.
I asked Gabriel if he’s thought about what might factor into his decision about his future.
“I try not to, honestly, but I think God’s got a plan for the future,” he said. “It’ll all play out.”
He added that he’s not trying to create drama.
“If I had an answer, I would tell you,” he said, “ but also, I think I just gotta trust God and be present.”
With apologies to Lloyd in “Dumb and Dumber,” so, you’re telling me there’s a chance.
I suspect the Sooners have a better chance with Gabriel than Lloyd had with Mary, and if there are more games with Gabriel at quarterback, OU will be better for it. But if this was the end, Sooners everywhere have to hope Gabriel enjoyed the day.
He deserved it.