College Sports

Mike Bianchi: Why UCF should stick with Dillon Gabriel as starting QB against Stanford

Since UCF coach Josh Heupel hasn't yet named a quarterback for Saturday's huge home game against Stanford, I'm going to go ahead and name true freshman Dillon Gabriel as the starter.

That's right. I'm starting Gabriel ahead of Notre Dame senior transfer Brandon Wimbush, who mysteriously missed last week's game against FAU because Heupel said Wimbush "wasn't 100%" – whatever that means.

And I'm starting Gabriel ahead of sophomore Darriel Mack Jr., who became the No. 1 quarterback last season when McKenzie Milton went down with that awful knee injury.

Why does Gabriel get the nod from coach Bianchi? For two reasons: No. 1: He's played extensively in both games this season while the other two quarterbacks have not. Wimbush didn't play at all last week, and Mack missed all of fall drills and the first two games while recovering from a broken ankle suffered during the offseason. No. 2: Benching Gabriel after his first start last week – a 48-14 victory over FAU – might shake the true freshman's confidence.

That said, Heupel knows a zillion times more about the quarterback position than I do. He sees these guys in practice every day, and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of each in relation to the upcoming opponent. As he told me earlier this week, he will start the quarterback he believes gives UCF "the best opportunity to win" against Stanford.

Will it be Gabriel, or will it be Wimbush?

When you consider Mack hasn't faced live competition in months, it's almost a given Heupel won't start him against Stanford, although perhaps Mack will be moved up to second team so he can get more reps at practice.

As for Wimbush, it just feels as though he has moved down the depth chart, for whatever reason. Otherwise, why all the secrecy about Wimbush's status late last week? Remember on Thursday before the FAU game when Heupel indicated Wimbush would start the game, and then two days later, it was Gabriel in the starting lineup and Wimbush didn't play at all? Call me cynical, but I'd bet good money that Heupel knew all week that Gabriel would be starting against FAU.

Likewise, I believe Heupel already knows who will start Saturday against Stanford, and he just isn't saying so yet. As I wrote after the FAU game, having numerous competent quarterbacks is obviously a great problem to have, but it's also a complex issue in that it's difficult to keep everybody happy.

For instance, what do you do now with Wimbush, a senior who transferred from Notre Dame, if, in fact, he has been relegated to third team? Do you see if he wants to move to another position like wide receiver or defensive back, or do you put a package of plays in for him at quarterback?

Likewise, if Gabriel is, in fact, the starter, then what do you do with Mack, who is just a sophomore? Do you put a package of plays in for him, too? The same for Quadry Jones, the redshirt freshman from Jones High School, who is also talented enough to merit playing time. As Jones tweeted the other day, "Don't forget about me!"

Does any other team in the nation have three quarterbacks on its roster who have started collegiate games? Does any other team in the nation have four quarterbacks who are probably good enough to start at a number of major colleges across the country?

When I asked Heupel if he has a quarterback controversy or quarterback prosperity, he was quick to answer.

"We have quarterback prosperity," he said. "There's no controversy. Guys like competing and cheering each other on. Our football team believes in those guys. Last year (when Milton went down with an injury) was a great lesson for everybody, fans included, that the strength of a position can never be just one guy. I'm proud of the way our guys (quarterbacks) have handled all the adversity and everything that has been thrown at them."

To paraphrase that great quarterback whisperer, William Shakespeare: "QB or not QB, that is the question."

Hopefully, Josh Heupel will come up with the right answer by kickoff Saturday.

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