Following Ohio State’s spring game on Saturday, head coach Ryan Day said he expected the quarterback competition between Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin to continue into preseason camp.
Just five days later, it’s now crystal clear who the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback will be.
Ohio State confirmed Thursday that Baldwin is entering the transfer portal, leaving Fields as the undisputed starting quarterback – and very little depth behind him.
Fields’ emergence as the starter isn’t surprising. After all, the No. 2 overall recruit from the class of 2018 didn’t transfer from Georgia after one year to sit on the bench elsewhere. He was always the frontrunner to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback this season, taking most of the snaps with the first-team offense this spring, and Baldwin was going to have to clearly outperform him to have a chance to seize the starting job.
Fields’ performance in the spring game, in which he completed just 4-of-13 passing attempts, was evidence that he still has a long way to go in his development. Both Day and Fields said as much after the spring game; Day described both quarterbacks as a “work in progress,” while Fields said he believes he has “only scratched the surface” of his potential.
That said, he has the tools as both a passer and a runner to be an elite quarterback, and he’s only been on campus for just over three months. If he can continue to make steady progress in his development throughout the summer and in preseason camp, he has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Expecting him to pick up exactly where Dwayne Haskins left off without any drop-off might be expecting too much, but Day picked Fields as Haskins’ successor due to his tremendous upside, and that hasn’t changed.
What has changed, and what is surprising, is that Baldwin might not even be on the team.
In his pre-spring game press conference last week, Day praised Baldwin for his work ethic this spring and his loyalty to the team, suggesting that he believed Baldwin would stick around regardless of how the quarterback competition played out.
“Just really impressed with the way he goes to work every day,” Day said of Baldwin. “And that’s not about what happens if I don’t win the job. Am I going to try to go move somewhere else? No, he’s a Buckeye, and that’s really important. That’s important to our team.”
Now, however, Baldwin is exploring his options – presumably with the expectations that he was not going to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback this season, though Lettermen Row’s Austin Ward (who broke the news that Baldwin would enter the transfer portal) reported that “multiple sources familiar with Baldwin’s thinking attributed the decision more to a desire to be closer to home rather than a concern about future playing time or any issues with the coaching staff.”
That leaves the Buckeyes with just three quarterbacks on their current roster – Fields, Chugunov and Danny Vanatsky – and in a potentially dire situation if anything happens to Fields.
Chugunov is actually the most experienced quarterback on the roster, having started two games for West Virginia in 2017 before transferring to Ohio State last summer, but the fifth-year senior is viewed strictly as a backup quarterback for the Buckeyes. He was the third-string quarterback behind Fields and Baldwin this spring, and was not actively involved in the competition to start.
Vanatsky, a redshirt freshman, is a walk-on who has never played in a collegiate game.
Ohio State is now back in the market for another transfer quarterback – specifically, a graduate transfer, as the Buckeyes need another quarterback with immediate eligibility – but that means the Buckeyes’ options will essentially be limited to quarterbacks who didn’t win starting jobs elsewhere and aren’t primarily concerned with being starters this year, which will limit their options considerably.
That means that unlike in 2014, when Cardale Jones began the year as Ohio State’s third-string quarterback and finished the year by leading the Buckeyes to a national championship after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, Ohio State’s hopes of contending for a title this year appear to be entirely dependent upon Fields.
That might have already been true, but it’s even more true now, as the Buckeyes enter a new reality in which they will likely enter the 2019 season with no quarterback who has been on the roster since longer than last summer, when Chugunov and Vanatsky joined the team.