Tate Martell’s Transfer, Justin Fields’ Uncertain Eligibility Makes Matthew Baldwin’s Development Crucial for Ohio State

By Dan Hope on January 16, 2019 at 8:35 am
Matthew Baldwin

Even though he’s never taken a snap in a collegiate game, there’s a chance Matthew Baldwin will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback next season.

That became a much more real possibility early Wednesday morning, when Tate Martell announced that he is transferring to Miami, leaving Ohio State with just three quarterbacks on scholarship.

If all goes according to plan, Justin Fields will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2019. Fields didn’t transfer from Georgia to be a backup, and with Martell now out of the equation, the No. 2 overall recruit from the class of 2018 is the clear-cut frontrunner to start for the Buckeyes in his first season in Columbus.

That said, Fields still needs to receive a legislative hardship waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play in 2019, and while his chances of receiving a waiver appear promising, that’s not guaranteed. There’s also the possibility, as there is with any quarterback, that Fields could suffer an injury.

As such, Ohio State needs Baldwin to be ready to play by the time September rolls around, regardless of whether Fields’ waiver request is approved.

Ohio State presumably would have liked to be able to get Baldwin some game action as a true freshman – with the new NCAA rule that allows players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt – so that he would have some playing time under his belt in case he is needed to play in 2019. That didn’t happen, however, in large part because Baldwin suffered a knee injury in December 2017, which required him to undergo surgery last January and limited his participation in both spring practice and fall camp.

Baldwin said his first year at Ohio State was still a valuable learning experience for him, though, because his injury forced him to focus on his mental development as a quarterback.

“Mentally, this has been a great development point,” Baldwin said after the Big Ten Championship Game. “There is just so much more in college that you have to worry about. Protections, what the receiver’s doing, everything the defense is doing. It’s just a lot to learn.”

Going into this spring, however, Baldwin needs to be ready to take live reps with Ohio State’s offense and have a firm grasp of everything he needs to be able to do from the quarterback position, because the Buckeyes don’t have many other options behind him.

Outside of Fields and Baldwin, the only other scholarship quarterback still on Ohio State’s roster for next season is Chris Chugunov, a graduate transfer from West Virginia with one remaining season of eligibility. While Chugunov did start a couple games for the Mountaineers in 2017, he was brought in last summer strictly to provide depth. Starting Chugunov at quarterback would be a last-resort option.

The Buckeyes are likely going to have to go back to the graduate transfer market, or add a high school quarterback who remains unsigned on National Signing Day, in order to fill out their quarterback depth, as new head coach Ryan Day has said that he wants to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. A graduate transfer quarterback who expects to be a starter isn’t going to come to Ohio State, though, so it’s unlikely that any quarterback the Buckeyes could still land through either of those avenues would be a promising option to start in 2019, either.

That means that Baldwin is Ohio State’s only truly viable option to start at quarterback other than Fields, and whether he will even be one depends on how he develops over the course of the spring and summer.

Although he wasn’t nearly as highly touted a recruit as Fields or Martell, Baldwin has potential. He drew praise in his first season in Columbus for his ability to “sling it” and building relationships with Ohio State’s receivers, and was hand-picked by Day to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback for the recruiting class of 2018 after Emory Jones wavered in his commitment.

It’s a real possibility that Baldwin could end up becoming a great starting quarterback for Ohio State, potentially even as soon as this year if he is called upon. Until he has a chance to show what he can do in actual game action, though, that will remain uncertain.

Nonetheless, Baldwin is looking forward to the opportunity to put his best foot forward, and knows that it’s on him to prove to his coaches and teammates that he’s ready to play.

“It’s going to be a huge offseason for me, it’s going to be a huge spring hopefully for me,” Baldwin said after the Big Ten Championship Game. “And it’s all up to me. I’m just saying that if I want to compete, if I want to be great, then it’s up to me just getting right.”

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