Tramel's Scissortales: OU's Dillon Gabriel 'super excited' for Orlando homecoming vs. FSU

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Dillon Gabriel is in familiar territory. Not the Cheez-It Bowl, necessarily. Not Camping World Stadium. But in Orlando, where Gabriel quarterbacked Central Florida for three seasons (the third shortened by injury) before transferred to OU.

“A lot of good memories,” Gabriel said of his homecoming. “Also just some good weather here in Florida, so that is a good time.”

Gabriel was a prolific UCF quarterback for 26 games, before a broken clavicle in September 2021 ended his season and ultimately his UCF career.

Gabriel completed 60.7% of his Central Florida passes, with 70 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He quarterbacked the Knights to an 18-8 record; his coach was former Sooner star Josh Heupel.

Now he’s back in Orlando to cap his first OU season.

“Super excited for the opportunity, but then also obviously spending time here, just, seeing a lot of people that I was here with, which was really fun,” Gabriel said.

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Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel (8) warms up before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.
Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel (8) warms up before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

While Gabriel shared a state with the Seminoles and a conference with FSU coach Mike Norvell, there have been no shared gridirons.

In Gabriel’s three seasons at Central Florida, the Knights didn’t play Florida State.

In fact, UCF never has played Florida State.

And while Norvell was head coach at Memphis of the American Conference in 2019, Gabriel’s first year quarterbacking UCF, the Knights and Tigers didn’t play.

But Florida State linebacker Tatum Bethune was a three-year teammate of Gabriel’s at UCF. Bethune, like Gabriel, transferred after last season.

“I give my honest opinion, a guy that makes plays and a guy that we need to stop on their offense,” Bethune said of his Gabriel scouting report.

Gabriel called Bethune a “great teammate. Never doubted his success. He is a great player and just a very good football player. He is talented and he can do a lot of things on the football field.”

With the transfer portal in overdrive, more and more of these reunions are going to occur. Former teammates meeting as foes. It’s not personal. It’s just business.

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Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) and Dillon Gabriel (8) sing the OU alma mater after a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Oklahoma won 28-13.
Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) and Dillon Gabriel (8) sing the OU alma mater after a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Oklahoma won 28-13.

“We stay in touch with, but really close with a lot of them and they are brothers for life,” Gabriel said of his former Knight teammates. “Just the experiences we had. Of course, a lot of people are on different paths. It is crazy how much a year can change a lot of things. But yeah, very connected with a lot of them, not only past players, but present.”

Another Gabriel/FSU connection: Gabriel assumed the Central Florida huddle from the Knights’ iconic quarterback, McKenzie Milton. The hero of UCF teams in 2017 and 2018, which went a combined 25-1, Milton suffered a massive knee injury in November 2018.

He fought through the injuries and rejoined the 2020 Knights, serving as scout team quarterback, but in December of that year announced he was transferring, saying “this is Dillon Gabriel’s team now.”

Milton transferred to Florida State, where he played sporadically in 2021.

For OU, Gabiel has completed 63% of his passes, with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions.

“He's an extremely talented quarterback,” Norvell said. “You see the way that he's played this year. He just continues to get better. His vision, his talent, the things that he can do, he just has that natural play-making ability that shows up throughout the course of the game.”

Just in 12 games played in Orlando, Gabriel has thrown 34 touchdown passes, just four interceptions, and completed 62.3% of his passes. The Sooners will take that kind of production in the Cheez-It Bowl.

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Is the Cheez-It Bowl a home game for Florida State? 

Florida State fans have been spotted all over Orlando. Which is not surprising, considering the geography.

It’s 259 miles from Tallahassee, Florida – home of FSU – to Orlando. It’s 1,290 miles from Norman to Orlando.

“Obviously, Florida is a destination,” said Seminole coach Mike Norvell. “And to be able to play a bowl game here in our home state, it's a wonderful experience. We have a lot of players from the Orlando area and surrounding region.

“For those families, for those friends, for all of our wonderful fan base that is going to be able to be a part of this game and this experience, it is definitely exciting.”

The Seminole fan base figured to be more excited about this bowl game regardless of convenience. Florida State has had a renaissance, 9-3 season. The Sooners are a sluggish 6-6.

But OU football is accustomed to being at a geographic disadvantage in bowl games. The Sooners occasionally have a quasi-home game for bowls – the Cotton Bowl vs. Florida, for example – but much more often have been the virtual visitor.

This is the 14th bowl in Sooner history in which they play in the opponent’s home state.

Some of those games are no disadvantage.

Houston is 746 miles from El Paso, so what did it matter that Houston U. was OU’s 1981 Sun Bowl opponent?

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The Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M in 2013 was like playing OU-Texas in Dallas. Equidistance.

OU has played in three Orange Bowls against Florida State, but the Seminoles are 483 miles from Miami.

Even the 1993 Sun Bowl against Texas Tech was no big deal; it’s 347 miles from Lubbock to El Paso.

But OU also has played bowl games on the opponent’s home field (Orange Bowl vs. Miami; Fiesta Bowl vs. Arizona State).

Twice, the Sooners have played Sugar Bowls against Louisiana State, which sits 81 from New Orleans, in Baton Rouge.

And Florida came just 323 miles from Gainesville for the Orange Bowl and the 2008 national title game.

Hurts a lot worse when it’s for the national title.

That does not describe the Cheez-It Bowl.

Still, the Seminoles seem excited. Florida State did not play in bowl games in the 2020 or 2021 seasons.

“Being able to feel that energy, it started at the beginning of the year and it has continued to build,” said Norvell, in his third season with the Seminoles.

“We knew some of the challenges that we faced and some of the obstacles that we had to overcome. To be able to end this season here in our home state with so many of our fans that are going to be able to be a part of this game, it is going to be a wonderful atmosphere.

“Like I said, it means everything to us, because not only who we represent there in the locker room, the passion, the care, the relationships that are a part of this team. It is also who we represent. It is special to be a Florida State Seminole. We have one of the greatest fan bases in the country, and to feel their excitement and just the joy to celebrate this team and to come root them on, it is wonderful to be able to be here in Orlando.”

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Mailbag: OU backup quarterback 

OU’s backup quarterback situation is an eternal discussion.

Greg: “I have been surprised at the apparent lack of interest by OU to add a serviceable backup quarterback to the roster. It’s asking a lot of a true freshman to step into that role, much less a starter if Gabriel leaves. Other teams seem to have adequate players at the QB position at least 3-deep. Why not OU?”

Tramel: I have to believe OU did have adequate players three-deep. Good backups? They are hard to find.

Last year, OU added a quarterback who was coming off these stats from the Peach Bowl vs. Michigan State: 14 of 18 passing, one TD, one interception, 149 yards.

Not great, but certainly solid, on a big stage, against a good team. That was Davis Beville.

What we saw out of Beville in the Texas game was a coaching malfunction. I don’t know what the disconnect was, but for Beville to be no more effective than he was is not a total indictment of Beville. Pitt got him ready to play. Why couldn’t OU?

Even Nick Evers is a mystery. Sure, he’s a true freshman, but so was OSU’s Garret Rangel, and while Rangel was no great shakes when needing to fill in for Spencer Sanders, he at least functioned.

With all that said, it’s hard to get transfers to come in as a backup. Beville was willing to do it, but few are. Everyone wants to play.

More:Which OU football players will benefit most from playing Florida State in Cheez-It Bowl?

The List: Florida State quarterbacks vs. OU 

OU plays Florida State on Thursday night in the Cheez-It Bowl, and it’s the eighth Sooner-Seminole matchup. Here are the Seminoles who have quarterbacked against OU and what became of them.:

1. Steve Tensi: Played at FSU from 1962-64 and quarterbacked the ‘64 Seminoles to a 36-19 victory over the Sooners in the Gator Bowl. Tensi went on to play pro football, making 34 starts for the Chargers and Broncos from 1966-70.

2. Jimmy Black: Bobby Bowden’s first Seminole quarterback, Black started in FSU’s 24-9 loss at Norman in 1976. After leaving Florida State, Black backpacked around Europe, then went to work for, and retired from, Boeing.

3. Jimmy Jordan: Split time at quarterback for the 1979 Seminoles in the Orange Bowl, won 24-7 by OU. Jordan played in the United States Football League.

4. Wally Woodham: Jordan's platoon partner with the '79 Seminoles, and here's the kicker -- Woodham and Jordan were high-school quarterbacks together who also platooned.

5. Rick Stockstill: Quarterbacked the 1980 Seminoles against OU in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners won 18-17. Stockstill went into coaching and in 2006 was named head coach at Middle Tennessee. He’s still on the job, with a record of 109-103 in 17 years with the Blue Raiders.

6. Chris Weinke: The 1999 national-championship quarterback and the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, Weinke’s offense didn’t score against the Sooners in the 2000 national title game, losing 13-2. Weinke was 28 as a college senior, after having played minor-league baseball. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers and made 20 National Football League starts over five seasons. Weinke worked in the financial world after the NFL but went into coaching in 2015 and has worked with the St. Louis Rams, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Tech.

7. Christian Ponder: Quarterbacked the Seminoles in a 47-17 loss at OU in 2010. He was a three-year FSU starter who was a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. Ponder made 36 starts over four NFL seasons. He is married to ESPN’s Samantha Ponder.

8. E.J. Manual: Manuel quarterbacked the Seminoles early in their eventual 23-13 home loss to OU in 2010. Manuel was a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and made 18 NFL starts over five seasons. Manuel is a studio analyst for ACC Network.

9. Clint Trickett: Relieved the injured Manuel in that 2011 OU-FSU game. Trickett eventually transferred to West Virginia and played against the Sooners. Trickett now is the offensive coordinator at Marshall University in his native West Virginia.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.  

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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU football: Dillon Gabriel 'super excited' to see UCF pals in Orlando