At this time a year ago, Ohio State was preparing for a three-way quarterback competition between Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell.
Now, none of them are still with the Buckeyes – and yet, Ohio State might already know who its starting quarterback will be for the next two years.
Justin Fields officially became eligible to play for Ohio State this season after receiving a transfer waiver from the NCAA on Friday, setting him up to immediately become the starter in his first season as a Buckeye.
But before we look ahead to the future, let’s take a look at how we got here.
Following J.T. Barrett’s four-year tenure as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, Haskins won the Buckeyes’ quarterback competition last spring, after which Burrow chose to leave the program as a graduate transfer to LSU. Neither of those outcomes were surprising; Haskins entered spring as the frontrunner to start after leading the Buckeyes to a comeback win in their 2017 rivalry game at Michigan, and Burrow had to transfer elsewhere to ensure he’d get an opportunity to start.
What wasn’t expected at the time, at least not by Ryan Day, is that Haskins would only be Ohio State’s starting quarterback for one year. After breaking the Big Ten single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy race, Haskins is projected to be the first quarterback selected in the 2019 NFL draft, but he left two seasons of collegiate eligibility on the table.
“This was a guy that you expected to get three years out of, and you developed him for two years, got 14 games,” said Day, who was Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator last year and is now the Buckeyes’ head coach. “That was hard. That took a little time to get yourself off the canvas on that one. Because we thought we were going to get three years, we got one.”
When Haskins quickly proved himself to be an elite talent this past fall, it started to become evident that he could go one-and-done as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. The expectation then became that Martell would succeed Haskins as the starter in 2019. But after Fields announced that he was transferring to Ohio State from Georgia on Jan. 4, Martell decided to head for the exits, ultimately announcing his transfer to Miami less than two weeks later.
“Without getting too much into it, obviously we wish him nothing but the best,” Day said of Martell’s departure. “Disappointed to see him leave. But he'll have a good career.”
Going back to last summer – even before Dwan Mathis flipped to Georgia, leaving Ohio State without a high school quarterback for the recruiting class of 2019 – the notion of losing both Haskins and Martell after the season would have seemed disastrous for the 2019 season.
Of course, no one would have guessed then that Fields – the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2018 – would choose to leave Georgia after just one season and that Ohio State would be his choice destination.
Now, the Buckeyes’ quarterback situation – at least at the top of the depth chart – appears to be in good shape once again. Fields is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, possessing both an excellent arm and the athletic ability to make plays as a runner, and could be an immediate star for the Buckeyes if he can pick up Ohio State’s offense quickly.
Day hasn’t committed to starting Fields yet, saying that Matthew Baldwin will get a shot to compete for the starting job this spring too. But the Buckeyes didn’t recruit Fields to be a backup, and it would be a big surprise if he doesn’t ultimately win the job, considering Baldwin is a redshirt freshman who has never played in a game.
As long as he stays healthy and performs anywhere close to expectations, Fields should be Ohio State’s starting quarterback for the next two years. He has three years of eligibility remaining, but said earlier this week that his goal is to play in the NFL as soon as he can, making him a likely candidate to enter the 2021 NFL draft.
If Fields can star for Ohio State’s offense for the next two years, though, that will be more than enough to make the Buckeyes’ investment in bringing him as a transfer pay off – even as it came at the cost of losing Martell.
That could also give Baldwin – assuming he sticks around for the long haul – two more years to develop and gain experience as a backup to set him up for the opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job with two remaining years of eligibility in 2021. Ohio State also has what appears to still be a rock-solid commitment from Jack Miller, the No. 4-ranked pro-style quarterback in the recruiting class of 2020, who should also be a strong candidate to compete for the starting job in 2021 after a year on campus.
Quarterback depth remains both an immediate and long-term concern for the Buckeyes, as they currently have only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and one of them – Chris Chugunov – will be gone after the 2019 season. While Ohio State would like to have four scholarship quarterbacks on its roster, Day indicated in his press conference on Wednesday that the Buckeyes might not be able to add another this year, with the roster already at 85 scholarships.
“You'd like to have four. In today's day and age, it’s not easy. When you look around the country, not too many teams have four quality quarterbacks on their roster,” Day said. “You have to adjust with what you have.”
The Buckeyes could look to add a second quarterback to their recruiting class of 2020 in order to reinforce their depth for the future, but it will likely remain challenging for Ohio State to maintain a four-deep quarterback roster as transfers become increasingly rampant at the position.
Most importantly, however, Ohio State still appears to be in good shape in regards to having quarterbacks who are talented enough to run the offense that Day and new quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich want to run.
Replacing Haskins won’t be easy, the third-string quarterback is the only one who has ever started a collegiate game and they would certainly like to have another quarterback on their roster to provide depth. But with Fields now set to lead the Buckeyes into the immediate future, and Baldwin and Miller also in the pipeline, their prospects at the position remain promising despite all the quarterbacks they have lost.