When comparing UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel to other top signal callers across the country, there are several ways to make the comparison. Passing completion percentage, touchdown passes, rushing touchdowns, yards per game, and so on and so forth. What does not seem to be mentioned but undoubtedly comes into the equation when top quarterbacks are discussed would be the level of play.
While a quarterback like Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler certainly deserves mention, how much better is he than Gabriel? Same question, now with sophomore Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei? They are in the Power Five, while Gabriel is not.
There are several Las Vegas sports books that rank the preseason Heisman Trophy odds, and by and large there’s little respect for Gabriel. This is a contest of name recognition to a certain extent, but brand recognition, i.e. the school name on the football jersey apparently holds the most power, at least going into the 2021 season.
With all of the different names that are represented on various Heisman Trophy watchlists, here’s a closer look at how Gabriel stacks up with three of the quarterbacks that are ranked ahead of him. Should Gabriel be placed in the same category as the following quarterbacks?
Recent DraftKings Heisman odds next to each player’s name
Dillon Gabriel (+5000)
Vitals: 6’0”, 200-pounds
High School: Mililani (Hawaii) High School
2020 Passing Statistics: 248 of 413 (60.0%), for 3,570 yards and 32 touchdowns with four interceptions.
Biggest Statistical Game: at Memphis, Gabriel was 35 of 49 (71.4%) for 601 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Why he’s a Heisman Trophy Candidate: proven field general that exploits a defense’s weakness. Gabriel proved to possess pinpoint accuracy, a deft touch on the deep ball, and the uncanny ability to make an accurate downfield throw even under duress during his first two seasons under center for the Knights. While he does not play in the ACC or SEC, Gabriel’s quarterback skills would work well at Alabama or Clemson just like they do for UCF.
Spencer Rattler (+550 - favorite)
Vitals: 6’1”, 205-pounds
High School: Phoenix (Ariz.) Pinnacle
2020 Passing Statistics: 214 of 317 (67.5%), for 3.031 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Biggest Statistical Game: versus Oklahoma State, Rattler was 17 or 24 (70.8%), for 301 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Why he’s a Heisman Trophy Candidate: Rattler leads one of the nation's top offenses, and he's expected to be the next great Oklahoma quarterback to compete for the Heisman Trophy and go on to the NFL. Rattler's big-play potential flashed during the 2020 season, and he's expected to take the next step in 2021.
D.J. Uiagalelei (+600)
Vitals: 6’4”, 250-pounds
High School: Inland Empire (Calif.) St. John Bosco
2020 Passing Statistics: 78 of 117 (66.7%), for 914 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Biggest Statistical Game: at Notre Dame, 29 of 44 (65.9%), for 439 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Why he’s a Heisman Trophy Candidate: Uiagalelei’s ability to throw bullets into tight windows might be unmatched as his arm strength is elite even by NFL standards. Also intelligent, this young signal caller torched Notre Dame’s secondary, on the road, during his first career college start. He’s waited behind Trevor Lawrence for one season to now be the starter, and he’s poised to be Clemson’s next big-time quarterback. While inexperienced, do not completely discount Uiagalelei making a run at the biggest individual award in college football.
Sam Howell (+1700)
Vitals: 6’1”, 220-pounds
High School: Indian Trail (N.C.) Sun Valley
2020 Passing Statistics: 237 of 348 (68.1%), for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Biggest Statistical Game: versus Wake Forest, 32 of 45 (71.1%), for 550 yards and six touchdowns with one interception.
Why he’s a Heisman Trophy Candidate: Howell exploits defenses even if that means handing off. Against Miami, the Hurricanes could not stop the run so Howell continued to hand off. Against Wake Forest, a team that struggles to stop the pass, Howell lit up the Demon Deacons for 550 yards passing. One of the smartest signal callers in the land, Howell demonstrated he would find a way to score points regardless of how it’s done.
Comparing the Quarterbacks
Gabriel is the field general that rips a defense a part by taking shots down the field, Rattler is a bit of gunslinger with the mobility to extend plays and create chunk yardage passes, Uiagalelei provides the classic pocket passer that makes laser throws, and Howell is an all-around quarterback that beats opponents however he can. There’s one thing different about Gabriel than the rest.
He’s not playing in the Power Five. Yes, his style is slightly different from the other quarterbacks listed above, and he’s slightly different from say Alabama’s rising sophomore Bryce Young (+800) that’s also ultra-talented, or Ole Miss’s redshirt junior Matt Corral (+2000) that’s a gifted athlete who can throw. It’s just that Gabriel is not in the Power Five. That’s really the difference in why he’s not ranked as highly as the other signal callers on most sports books Heisman Trophy lists.
Will Gabriel ascend towards the top of the leader board as the season progresses? He will certainly hold a chance. With the opening game against Boise State, the Knights will have a national audience with a Thursday night game being televised by ESPN. That game is the starting point for Gabriel and the Knights as a whole.
Big Games Matter to Voters
Players are often judged by games versus rivals, upset victories, and making the clutch play in the fourth quarter. Heisman Trophy voters are known to tune into those types of games and make snap judgments as well. That’s just reality and it’s been discussed for decades.
Gabriel’s prior play certainly placed his name in each of those aforementioned categories. Now, the junior from Hawaii must lead the Knights to a big season with 10 or more victories, plus perform at his best during the biggest contests -- Boise State, at Louisville, at Cincinnati, Memphis, AAC Championship Game -- for him to truly compete for the Heisman Trophy.
Gabriel is one of the nation’s best players, and quarterbacks. He did not yet receive his just due. That’s part of the deal when playing in the Group of Five, like it or not. With that being said, Gabriel’s skills should provide another blockbuster season, and with UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn now leading the offense there’s a chance for more fireworks in Orlando.
Time will tell if Gabriel ends up in New York, N.Y. for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, but he’s certainly deserving of being placed amongst the nation’s elite signal callers. Whether it’s Rattler, Uiagalelei, Howell or another quarterback, Gabriel should be considered amongst the nation’s best.