Even though Ohio State won’t have an experienced quarterback next season, there are still many reasons to be optimistic about the Buckeyes’ 2021 offense.
Ohio State will officially have a new starting quarterback in 2021 after Justin Fields announced Monday that he is entering the NFL draft. While that news wasn’t any surprise, it still leaves the Buckeyes with massive shoes to fill at quarterback, and none of the three quarterbacks who will be competing to fill those shoes – redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller and true freshman Kyle McCord – have ever thrown a pass at the collegiate level.
It’s never ideal to enter a season with a completely unproven roster of quarterbacks, and some drop-off should be expected when replacing a player of Fields’ caliber. Regardless of who wins the starting job, there’s likely to be some growing pains given the lack of experience. But the Buckeyes remain more than capable of fielding an elite offense in 2021.
Stroud and Miller are both four-star recruits who now at least have a year of practicing in Ohio State’s offense – plus some very limited game experience – under their belts. McCord is set to arrive on campus later this week as a five-star recruit. All three of them legitimately have the potential to develop into elite quarterbacks, so there’s reason to be confident at least one of them will be ready to play at a high level come September.
Regardless of who wins the starting job, that quarterback’s potential to succeed right away will be bolstered significantly by the boatload of talent he will have around him on Ohio State’s offense.
On the same day Fields officially confirmed he’d be leaving Ohio State, the Buckeyes also received two huge pieces of good news for their 2021 offense when wide receiver Chris Olave and tight end Jeremy Ruckert both announced they’d be staying at Ohio State for another year. With Olave and Ruckert back in the fold, Ohio State’s new quarterback will have a group of pass-catching weapons at his disposal that should be the best in the country.
Olave and Garrett Wilson will be, without much debate, the best returning pair of wide receivers in college football. Both of them topped 720 receiving yards this past season even though the Buckeyes played just eight games, and both of them project to be first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming and Jameson Williams will also be back next season, and each of them have the potential to emerge as stars, too. Add in fourth-year wideout Kamryn Babb, second-year wideout Gee Scott Jr. and the incoming freshman trio of Emeka Egbuka, Jayden Ballard and Marvin Harrison Jr., and the Buckeyes will have nine top-100 recruits on their 2021 receiver roster – not even including Olave, a three-star recruit out of high school who’s proven himself to be a player of five-star caliber in Columbus.
On top of all that wideout talent, Ohio State will also return one of college football’s top tight ends in Ruckert.
With so many pass-catchers who can make big plays, Ohio State doesn’t necessarily need its new quarterback to be Justin Fields – it just needs its new quarterback to be able to accurately and efficiently get the ball to open receivers, like Mac Jones did so well for Alabama’s national championship offense this past season.
Ohio State’s new quarterback will also benefit from having what might be college football’s best returning tandem of offensive tackles, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, who were already both among the nation’s best in pass protection this past season.
Lowest pressure % allowed by P5 OTs:— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 7, 2021
1. Nicholas Petit-Frere, OSU - 0.5%
2. Thayer Munford, OSU - 0.9% pic.twitter.com/NLg41bwSL5
The interior offensive line is a potential area of concern, as center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis both joined Fields in declaring for the NFL draft, but the Buckeyes will have plenty of talented candidates vying to replace them.
Harry Miller made five starts at left guard and one start at center, and Matthew Jones made three starts at left guard in 2020. Both of them could line up at any of the interior spots. Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones will both compete for starting spots at guard now that there won’t be an open starting spot at tackle. Enokk Vimahi is another guard on the rise while Luke Wypler should be in the mix at center.
Ohio State will also be replacing its starting running back after Trey Sermon opted not to stay for his additional year of eligibility. The Buckeyes’ running game clearly suffered after Sermon was hurt on the first play of the national championship game, but they’ll have a deep group of potential playmakers on their roster there, too.
Fourth-year running back Master Teague returns to lead the room after rushing for more than 1,300 yards over the past two seasons, and the Buckeyes will be looking for Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers to make a jump as third-year backs. Yet the players to watch in the running back room this offseason could be second-year back Miyan Williams, who flashed in limited action as a freshman, and incoming five-star recruit TreVeyon Henderson, who’s a very real candidate to push for an immediate spot in the running back rotation.
Ohio State will need new stars to emerge at quarterback, running back and up front to have a championship-caliber offense again this fall, but the return of stars like Olave, Wilson, Ruckert, Munford and Petit-Frere should help ensure the Buckeyes have plenty of scoring firepower once again in 2021, all the while giving Ohio State’s new quarterback all the tools he needs to perform at his best.
And if you’re looking for an early reason to believe Stroud, Miller or McCord can get the job done, you need look no further than Olave and Ruckert – two players who have already caught passes from Miller and Stroud in practice – opting to return for another year. Because as two pass-catchers who could have already been early-round NFL draft picks this year, they certainly wouldn’t be coming back for another season if they weren’t confident they could thrive with Ohio State’s new passer.