College Football
How Dillon Gabriel, Caleb Williams and 3 other transfer QBs are fitting in
College Football

How Dillon Gabriel, Caleb Williams and 3 other transfer QBs are fitting in

Updated Dec. 13, 2022 10:22 a.m. ET

By Bryan Fischer
FOX Sports College Football Writer

The adage that the most popular player on campus is the backup quarterback might be getting a makeover in the age of the transfer portal. Now, the most popular player could actually be a quarterback on another campus.

Such is the new way of life for coaches at nearly 60 FBS programs who are starting transfers behind center this year alone. One guy out the door, another one in as the high-stakes world of quarterback recruiting has shifted beyond the high school ranks to the portal. 

Look no further than this week’s marquee matchup on "Big Noon Kickoff." Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel went 18-8 as a starter at UCF before realizing he wasn’t a great fit in Gus Malzahn’s offense in Orlando. He came within a few hours of enrolling at UCLA in January but made the late switch to the Sooners and has them in the top 10 in both polls. 


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Opposite number Casey Thompson at Nebraska hasn’t had quite the same level of success in his own search for greener pastures. But this weekend offers intrigue because he threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns against Oklahoma last year — a narrow loss for his then-Texas program in a game that featured two other signal-callers who wound up leaving town in Caleb Williams (USC) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina).

"I was telling a recruit the other day, the portal has opened up [the roster]. I think everybody's getting stronger," Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said Monday. "I think you're seeing some of these Group of 5 teams beat people because they've got a stronger roster than they had in the past. Everybody is weeding out their roster, getting rid of the weak, and they're finding guys that are better than they lost."

Narduzzi would know. Panthers regular starting quarterback Kedon Slovis transferred from USC and notched the first win with his new team in the Backyard Brawl over fellow ex-Trojan, JT Daniels. The latter is off to an 0-2 mark at West Virginia — his third school after later transferring from Georgia to Morgantown over the offseason.

Even Slovis’ backup in Los Angeles last year found a new gig for 2022 after Jaxson Dart started the season opener at Ole Miss.

How are other transfer quarterbacks faring? Here’s a look at five of the most notable, some of whom are finding an early rhythm at their new stop and a handful who haven’t.

Transferred from: UCF
How it’s going: 70.6% passing, 529 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs
Next game: at Nebraska (Saturday, noon ET on FOX and the FOX App)

Gabriel has been solid and efficient for the Sooners in two easy nonconference tests but will travel to Lincoln this weekend for just his fourth-ever road game at a Power 5 opponent. Former UCF offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby calling plays in Norman has helped his transition behind center and he’s benefited from the presence of wideout Marvin Mims as a go-to in the passing game. OU has the potential to be a fringe College Football Playoff team but will only go as far as Gabriel’s arm will take them. He has a 75/14 TD/INT ratio for his career and is known for his ability to deliver the ball down the field but as the competition level steps up, so too will the Hawaiian signal-caller. 

"He’s an assassin," Brent Venables said of his starter after Oklahoma’s win last week over Kent State that earned the signal-caller Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors. "It’s not his first rodeo. He’s a ball junkie, a great leader. The game comes easy to him in so many ways. His best attribute is he doesn’t get too high or too low — he’s the same guy. Every once and a while he’ll even have a smile when he makes a big-time play."

Transferred from: Texas
How it’s going: 63.9% passing, 866 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs
Next game: at Nebraska

Scott Frost is out of a job but it’s not at the hands of the signal-caller he brought in to replace Taylor Martinez. Thompson has taken well to OC Mark Whipple’s system and certainly channels a bit of what first-rounder Kenny Pickett did in 2021. His supporting cast isn’t what others have, but he’s still accounted for eight touchdowns total and has proven to be an asset as a runner in the red zone. In the loss to Georgia Southern, he did put together a 98-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive, but has also had to deal with a lot on his shoulders in carrying a mediocre Huskers team.

Transferred from: Oklahoma
How it’s going: 79.6% passing, 590 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs
Next game: vs. Fresno State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX App)

The exodus from the Trojans quarterback room hasn’t hampered the cardinal and gold one bit under new head coach Lincoln Riley. Williams picked up where he left off last year in Norman and now ranks second in the country in passer rating, including an impressive 12 yards per attempt. In a sign of just how dominant the team has been in rising into the top 10 in both polls, USC’s offense has faced just 15 third downs total — a figure that is the fewest in all of FBS and would be even smaller if you factored in just the first team offense. 

Accordingly, Williams now has the second-best odds (+320) to win the Heisman Trophy and has many coming around on the team being a true contender to make the College Football Playoff.

Can the USC Trojans be a CFP team?

Joel Klatt talks about the USC Trojans and their chances of making the College Football Playoff later this season.

BO NIX, Oregon
Transferred from: Auburn
How it’s going: 70% passing, 450 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT
Next game: vs. BYU (Saturday, 3:30 ET on FOX and the FOX App)

A long cross-country move from the Plains was supposed to give Nix a fresh start at Oregon and allow the former five-star to reach his potential in an offense better suited to his skill set. It didn’t work out that way in a rough opener (173 yards, two INT) against old SEC rival Georgia. He’ll face another robust test again Saturday when the 12th-ranked Cougars roll into Eugene. There are times the 6-foot-2 senior makes something out of absolutely nothing, but it’s in those same moments while scrambling around that can often get him into situations that leave everybody wondering what he was thinking with the football in his hand. The fact that he’s entrenched as the starter for the Ducks right now probably says more about highly-touted Ty Thompson than it does Nix’s ability to elevate the offense.

Transferred from: Oklahoma
How it’s going: 61.8% passing, 603 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
Next game: vs. Georgia (Saturday, noon ET)

Another ex-Sooner whose departure from campus seemed set from the moment Williams took his job last season. Rattler has slipped from a potential No. 1 overall pick in the eyes of many to getting outplayed last week by KJ Jefferson. It doesn’t get any easier for him or the Gamecocks with the reigning national champions rolling into Columbia, but with such a matchup also comes opportunity. He still has all the tools to help elevate the program beyond the basement of the SEC East but so far has played a little over-anxious in the backfield, mounting a late second-half comeback, but spoiling any momentum with a bad interception in the end zone. 

Read more:

- Oklahoma vs. new-look Nebraska and more we're watching in Week 3

- Joel Klatt's top 10 rankings

- CFB Week 3 by the numbers

- Key matchups NFL scouts are watching in Week 3

- Panic time at Texas, Notre Dame, Alabama and more?

- How to bet Oklahoma-Nebraska

- Can new Huskers coach make an impact?

- At the top of college football, a familiar scene

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.


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