Spring Football Questions: Can Dante Moore push Dillon Gabriel for the QB1 spot?

Spring football is right around the corner for Dan Lanning and the Oregon Ducks, so we are starting to prepare ourselves and knock off the small amount of dust that accumulated during a minuscule two-month offseason. To do that, we’re diving into individual position breakdowns, and asking some of the most important questions that need to be answered over the coming weeks and months. 

Whether we get definitive answers during the month-long spring season for the Ducks or not, it’s clear that Oregon has some major questions to answer as they prepare for life without Bo Nix, and a new reality in the Big Ten Conference competing for a spot in the expanded College Football Playoff. Let’s get the ball rolling with a question about QBs. 

On the morning of December 9, 2023, it appeared that the Oregon Ducks had solved their future quarterback issue. While Bo Nix was still on the roster and preparing to lead the Ducks into the Fiesta Bowl against the Liberty Flames, it was known that the 2024 season would need to bring change with Nix off to the NFL.

In stepped Dillon Gabriel, a transfer from Oklahoma who had shown himself to be one of the more electrifying and dynamic passers in the nation over the previous couple of seasons. Gabriel had one year of eligibility remaining, and he wanted to spend it in Eugene, hoping to follow the Nix model of elevating his draft prospects and closing the final chapter of his college career with legitimate national championship aspirations.

Just nine days later, though, competition arrived for Gabriel, this time in the form of UCLA transfer Dante Moore, a former 5-star prospect with history in Eugene.

For the most part, it has been assumed by fans and most media members following the team this offseason that Gabriel will be the starter from the day that camp starts in the fall. He is, of course, among the betting favorites to win the Heisman Trophy in 2024, and he enters the season as one of the most experienced passers in the nation, holding 49 starts, 125 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions under his belt, with almost 15,000 yards to throw on top.

Are we so sure that Gabriel’s name should be written in pen at the top of the depth chart, though? Let’s look into that question a bit more.

The Case for Dante Moore

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It’s not hard to see how high of a ceiling Dante Moore brings to the table for the Oregon Ducks. Standing at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Moore was rated as the No. 3 overall player in the 2023 recruiting class, and had he signed with the Ducks out of high school — he was committed for months, but then flipped to UCLA once Kenny Dillingham left for ASU — he would have been the second-highest rated commit in school history, behind only Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The talent is obviously there for this passer who was compared to Tua Tagovailoa coming out of high school. The question is whether he can get up to speed quickly enough and establish himself as a dynamic passer as a sophomore.

As a true freshman, Moore played in 9 games for UCLA, completing just 53.5% of his passes for 1,610 yards, 11 TDs, and 9 INTs. It’s fair to think that he was thrown into the deep end and asked to swim a bit too early, and while we saw some flashes of what could be a great QB, the freshman mistakes were far too plentiful. Development was key, and that’s what he is now getting in Eugene, with Will Stein taking over as his QB coach.

Will working with Stein from December to August be enough time to get Moore to a level that is good enough to start for Oregon? That’s yet to be seen, but we know the pieces are there for a really high-level player.

The Case for Dillon Gabriel

Dante Moore doesn’t simply need to be good enough to play at a high level for the Ducks, but he needs to be good enough to outperform Dillon Gabriel.

That may be a different thing entirely.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Gabriel is among the most experienced and productive quarterbacks that the sport has seen in recent memory. Already, with another season the play, he has 49 starts, 14,865 passing yards, 125 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. Compare that to Bo Nix — who started more games than anyone in the history of the college game — and his 15,352 yards, 113 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions.

It’s safe to say that Gabriel has proven that he can play at a high level, and you can’t blame anyone for assuming he will get the starting job in Eugene. He’s done it before, and there seems to be no reason that he can’t do it again.

What Should Fans be Rooting For?

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This is an interesting aspect of the question. Would fans react adversely if Moore wins the starting job over Gabriel? The easy answer is no, and that fans should simply want whoever gives their team the best chance at winning the Big Ten Conference and making a deep run in the College Football Playoff. However, now that we live in the world of name, image, and likeness, it’s fair to think that a small subset of Duck fans might feel a bit frustrated if Moore beat out Gabriel, largely stemming from the idea that it took X-amount of NIL dollars to get Gabriel to Eugene, and if he doesn’t even start, then that money might have been spent elsewhere.

I am in no way saying that this is the right line of thinking, but just acknowledging that some might feel this way. In reality, it’s easy to see that having both players in Oregon’s QB room only upped the level of competition and made the eventual starter that much better. An A-level QB who beats out a B-level QB is not always as good as an A-level QB who beats out another A-level QB — make sense?

In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if a random poll of Oregon fans showed an affinity for Gabriel, since he has only one year of eligibility remaining, and Moore has up to three years in Eugene should he redshirt in 2024. Still, though, the right answer to this question is that you should be rooting for whoever gives your team the best opportunity to win.

Does Either Answer Have a Downside?

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In all honesty, I think this is a true win-win scenario for Oregon fans regarding who wins the starting QB spot in 2024.

If Dillon Gabriel is named QB1, then he will go into the season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy and has a good chance to lead the Ducks to the College Football Playoff. Behind him, you have one of the most talented backup QBs in the nation who has already made it known that he is willing to redshirt for a year and work on developing with the knowledge that he will take over the reins in 2025.

Should Dante Moore win the starting job, then it will be incredibly clear that he earned it. Gabriel is no slouch, as we’ve laid out, and if Moore can come into spring football and show throughout the offseason that he is simply so talented and dynamic that the coaches can’t keep him off of the field, then what is the downside?

Our Prediction

I think that Dillon Gabriel is going to get the QB1 spot. This may have seemed like a lot of words to get to this conclusion, but the point is that I do believe the QB competition will be more tightly contested than a lot of people may assume.

There seems to be a notion that Dante Moore came to Oregon with the expectation that he would sit this season and be a backup to Gabriel. While he certainly knew that was a possibility, you can’t tell me that a former 5-star player who had legitimate experience as a freshman is not going to compete for the starting spot. Will he get it? My money is on the former Oklahoma Sooner, but I won’t at all be surprised if Moore shows out in the spring game and makes it a bigger conversation throughout the summer months.

Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire