Quarterback talent has been the least of the Oklahoma football issues in recent seasons.
The Sooners have been among the best in college football at the quarterback position since 2015. That’s the year Lincoln Riley arrived in Norman as the new offensive coordinator. Two seasons later, he would become the head coach, and while excellence at the QB position won’t necessarily change with Riley gone, he will certainly look different.
Since 2015, the Sooners have been led into battle by NFL starters and former Heisman winners Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts. Following that five-year run that was defined by Mayfield’s three seasons as the starter and lone years for both Murray and Hurts, it was time for a pair five-star recruits that Riley was grooming to take over as the OU field general to finally burst onto the scene.
First it was Spencer Rattlerwho had a season and a half at the controls before being unseated by super freshman Caleb Williams for the back half of the 2021 season Those two names highlighted the QB room for the Sooners just one year ago, and they, along with their coach, are elsewhere in the spring of 2022.
Enter Jeff Lebby, the new leader in the the QB room who has mighty big shoes to fill as the offensive playcaller in Norman. One of his fellow coaches, Wedge Gundy, who coaches the wide receivers and has been on the Oklahoma staff since Bob Stoops; first season in 199, believe he is up to the challenge.
Lebby was a student assistant at Oklahoma from 2002 to 2006. From 2008 to 2016, he was an offensive coach at Baylor, learning from Art and Kendal Briles and helping coach one of the best offenses in all of college football.
Baylor’s spread system was a top-five offense in the sport by points per game in both 2011 and 2012 and best in the country in points per game in 2013, 2014 and 2015 according to sports-reference.com.
After the Art Briles scandal at Baylor, Lebby landed at UCF for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He called the offenses under former Sooner quarterback and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. It was there that he recruited Dillon Gabriel out of Mililani High School in Hawaii. The Knights’ offense in 2019 was led by the true freshman lefty and finished second in the country, one spot about Oklahoma, in total offense. Lebby was the offensive coordinator that season.
Lane Kiffin hired Lebby as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, where the Rebels’ offense took off in 2020 and 2021, as the pair was crucial in helping hopeful NFL first-rounder Matt Corral develop. Brent Venables then hired Lebby to run his offense at OU.
All of these different influences, in addition to Bill Bedenbaugh and Gundy, will shape what Lebby’s offense looks like in Year 1 in Norman. Sooner fans will likely see a combination of the Briles system seen in Waco, Gabriel’s UCF schemes in 2019 and Kiffin’s influence in Oxford. All feature wide spoilts by receivers to ensure getting the ball in space to the playmaking weapons and a steady diet of RPOs (run-pass options) complemented by a physical inside running game.
Every offense needs the right triggerman, and that’s where the overhauled QB room comes back into play. Lebby has already named his former UCF quarterback Gabriel as the starter for 2022.
Gabriel has been the starter for the past three seasons at UCF but injured his collarbone in the Knights’ third game last season. He transferred to Norman after Williams put his name in the transfer portal. Gabriel’s relationship with Lebby and knowledge of the offense made it a natural fit.
Behind Gabriel will be a battle for the backup job between a four-star true freshman QB prospect out of Flower Mound, Texas, Nick Evers, Lebby’s first recruit upon taking the OU job, and walk-on Ralph Rucker, who was the third stringer last season. Evers is seen by many as the future of the position after Gabriel.
Former Penn State transfer Micah Bowens could enter the backup conversation with a strong spring and fall camp but was solidly behind Rucker on the depth chart last year. Finally, walk-on Ben Harris, another holdover from 2021, provides depth at the position and rounds out the room.
Jackson Arnold, a four-star commit out of Denton, Texas, could be next in line after Evers’ time is up. Arnold replaces Malachi Nelson, the No. 1 QB recruit in the 2023 class, who flipped to USC after the Riley move.
All in all, the work that the new staff has done at the quarterback position cannot be understated, after a mass exodus at that position hit the program hard.
The future is bright, and the Sooners could very well be among those setting the standard again at quarterback with a new man in charge of the offense and his southpaw student back in the saddle for his old coach once again.