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Oklahoma Football: Newcomers to Watch for the Sooners

Dillon Gabriel, UCF Knights Football

Former UCF starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel is expected to lead Oklahoma's offense under new head coach Brent Venables

When it comes to the Oklahoma Sooners, there will be plenty of "new" in 2022. There's a new head coach, coaching staff, new starting quarterback, and many other new faces on the roster. Another new aspect for this program is that for the first time since the 2015 season, Oklahoma isn't the defending Big 12 champion.

The Sooners saw their six-year reign come to an end last season, not even making it to the Big 12 Championship Game, and then watched as head coach Lincoln Riley left for USC. Several players, including quarterback Caleb Williams, followed Riley out west, while others, including Spencer Rattler, transferred elsewhere. These departures were in addition to those that either exhausted their eligibility or left early to enter the NFL draft.

Former Clemson defensive coordinator and Sooners assistant Brent Venables has returned to Norman as the head coach, and he's been busy during his brief time on the job. Not only was he able to secure a top-10 signing class but Venables and his staff also have been busy in the transfer portal.

Related: 5 Priorities for New Oklahoma Head Coach Brent Venables in 2022

With so many new faces on the roster, here are some key names to keep an eye on that could have a major impact on whether Oklahoma reclaims its Big 12 throne in 2022 or not.

Dillon Gabriel, QB

Caleb Williams' and Spencer Rattler's decision to transfer left a gaping hole at quarterback, but Venables believes he found his guy in Gabriel. A UCF transfer, Gabriel started 25 of the 26 games he played for the Knights across three seasons and put up big numbers in the process. He comes to Oklahoma with 8,037 passing yards, 70 touchdowns, and just 14 interceptions and can make plays with his legs if need be (eight career rushing TDs).

Gabriel is coming back from a broken clavicle that caused him to miss the final 10 games last season, but he's had plenty of time to recover. He also will be reunited with a familiar face in offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who served in the same capacity for the Knights in 2019 when Gabriel was a true freshman and started the final 12 games.

The Sooners' quarterback room also will include Nick Evers, a 4-star recruit from Flower Mound, Texas, who was the No. 9 prospect at his position in the 2022 class, according to the 247Sports Composite. Evers enrolled early and should provide depth behind Gabriel.

Related: College Football's Top 10 True Freshmen Quarterbacks to Watch in 2022

Gavin Sawchuk, RB

A top-100 overall prospect and the No. 7 running back per 247Sports, Sawchuk was a standout at Valor Christian in Littleton, Colorado. Eric Gray and Marcus Major are both back, but with Kennedy Brooks and his team-leading 1,253 rushing yards no longer in the picture, there could be an opportunity for Sawchuk to work his way into the rotation this fall. This year's recruiting class also includes Jovantae Barnes, a Las Vegas native and the No. 10 running back in the 2022 class.

Related: College Football's Top 20 Impact True Freshmen for 2022

McKade Mettauer, G

A Texas native, Mettauer decided to transfer to a school closer to home after starting 28 straight games at right guard for California. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 honoree by Pro Football Focus and honorable mention by the coaches last season. With Oklahoma needing to replace multiple starters along the offensive line, look for Mettauer to literally (he's listed at 6-4, 305) fill one of these holes, especially with just two offensive linemen in this year's recruiting class (4-stars Jake Taylor and Jacob Sexton).

Tyler Guyton also has transferred in from TCU, and while he has appealing size (6-7, 328), he has yet to register a start as a lineman. Guyton did make one start for the Horned Frogs in 2021 as an H-back (came against Oklahoma) and caught a six-yard touchdown pass in the season finale against Iowa State.

Gentry Williams, CB

A top-100 overall recruit, Williams is the highest-rated prospect in Oklahoma's 2022 class. A 4-star and the No. 1 recruit in the Sooner State according to 247Sports, the Tulsa product had three interceptions, including a pick-six, and also spent time at wide receiver as a senior. He chose Oklahoma over offers from Florida, USC, Arkansas, and others.

Not only is Williams going to get the chance to learn under Venables, a renowned defensive coach, but he also should have plenty of opportunity to carve out a significant role early if the true freshman is up to the task. The Sooners' secondary is set to feature many new faces following a wave of departures. Besides Williams and fellow 2022 recruits safety Robert Spears-Jennings and cornerback Jayden Rowe, Oklahoma also is welcoming in a trio of defensive back transfers — Trey Morrison (North Carolina), C.J. Coldon (Wyoming), and Kani Walker (Louisville).

Jeffery Johnson, DL

A four-year starter at Tulane, Johnson should step into the same role right away with the Sooners as a graduate transfer. Oklahoma has lost its three top sack producers from last season with Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto, and Perrion Winfrey (combined for 20.5 of team's 33 sacks) all preparing for the NFL draft. Johnson recorded eight sacks and 14 tackles for a loss during his tenure with the Green Wave, which featured 42 starts in 46 total games played. Even though he's new to the Sooners, Venables will probably count on Johnson's experience and size (6-2, 300) as he builds and develops his defense.

Jonah Laulu (Hawaii) is another transfer who could factor into the mix up front, along with the five defensive linemen in the 2022 recruiting class.

Podcast: Transfer QBs Could Dominate CFB in 2022 - Which Ones Will Make the Biggest Impact?