Ohio State’s quarterback competition should finally reach its inevitable conclusion on Monday.
That’s when Ryan Day, at his next scheduled press conference, expects to announce who the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback will be for their Aug. 31 season opener against Florida Atlantic, he said when asked Wednesday whether he was ready to name a starter yet.
“I think probably what we're going to do is get through the weekend and then on Monday probably make a final decision,” Day said. “We'll get back here on Monday and probably have an update for you. But like to make the decision and make the announcement on Monday.”
From the moment Justin Fields stepped foot on campus in January, it’s been widely expected that the Georgia transfer would be Ohio State’s starting quarterback. He had to get a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility, but once that was approved in February, the path was cleared for Fields to be Dwayne Haskins’ successor leading the Buckeyes’ offense.
Even after Haskins declared for the NFL draft and both Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin transferred out of Ohio State, Day has resisted saying that Fields was even the frontrunner to be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this season. He wanted Fields to prove he was ready to be the starting quarterback and earn the job through his performance in practice, and even as of this past Saturday, Day suggested that hadn’t happened yet.
On Wednesday, however, Day’s tone had changed.
While he was not ready to directly say that Fields had pulled away from the competition, his comments made it clear that the quarterback who wears No. 1 will be named QB1 next week, barring an unexpected turn of events between now and then.
“Justin’s practicing at a high level now and had a nice couple really good days here,” Day said Wednesday. “I do think Justin has taken a stride in the last couple days and the last week. He's moving the team nicely. He’s taken care of the ball better the last couple days. Throwing the ball on time. Improvement's there, and leadership is improving.”
Day also admitted on Wednesday, as has been evident during the four viewing windows of practice that have been open to the media this month, that Fields has been taking the majority of reps with the first-team offense.
“We try to roll (the quarterbacks) the best we can, but for the most part, when the ones have been out there, Justin has been with the ones,” Day said.
“Justin has taken a stride in the last couple days and the last week. He's moving the team nicely. He’s taken care of the ball better the last couple days. Throwing the ball on time. Improvement's there, and leadership is improving.”– Ryan Day on Justin Fields' improvement in camp
Gunnar Hoak, who was posited as Fields’ competition for the starting job entering fall camp, was not named at all by Day during Wednesday’s press conference, and as of Wednesday morning’s 11th practice of camp, Hoak was still running with the third-team offense behind both Fields and Chris Chugunov. Hoak is also still wearing a black stripe on his helmet, unlike fellow graduate transfer Jonah Jackson and several freshmen who also arrived this summer.
Chugunov was expected to be the third-string quarterback behind Fields and Hoak – and he still might ultimately be – but Day said Wednesday that he has been impressed by what he has seen from Chugunov, who came to Ohio State last summer as a graduate transfer from West Virginia, so far in camp, which means the No. 2 spot could be where the real quarterback competition is happening at this point.
“He’s actually had a chance to change his body in the offseason, and he's done a good job,” Day said of Chugunov. “He’s done some really good things. Had a sprained ankle and so he missed a couple practices, but yeah, he's battling. He wants to play. He's not here just to kind of take up a spot. I think his leadership's been good, he's been throwing the ball well and I've been impressed with his approach and how he came into this camp.”
Ohio State still has four more practices between now and Monday’s press conference, so the Buckeyes will continue to evaluate all three scholarship quarterbacks until they set their depth chart – which they need to do next week to turn their focus to preparing for the first game. At this point, though, it’s clear – not that it wasn’t before – that the starting job is Fields’ to lose, and as long as Fields stays healthy and continues to build upon the recent progress he has made, that’s not going to change.