C.J. Stroud needed only a few words to get his point across in the caption of an Instagram post featuring a pair of photos of him in an Ohio State jersey.
“My turn… #weknowthetruth”
There in the comment section among the 100-plus fans, dozens of Buckeyes players – past and present – backed him up.
“Go time,” wrote Justin Fields. Taron Vincent called him “QB1,” and Jeff Okudah deemed him “Next up.” Teradja Mitchell said, “In CJ we trust,” and Jaxon Smith-Njigba wrote, “Here we go.” Zach Harrison used the phrase “7 era,” referencing Stroud’s number. Baron Browning, Dwayne Haskins, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Trey Sermon, Lathan Ransom, Miyan Williams, Zach Harrison, Paris Johnson, Dallas Gant, Garrett Wilson, Ryan Watts and a slew of others joined in the chorus.
To put it simply: His teammates – and Fields – are treating him like he’s next in line to start. But is he?
Day won’t name a leader this early. When posed the question of whether or not Stroud pulled ahead of Jack Miller during their freshman season, he acted as though they remain neck-and-neck.
“I don't think that either of them are further along than the other, and I think we'll get a better feel for that in the spring,” Day said on Friday. “We'll see. There's still a lot to be worked through as we get into next September.”
In his first public comments since losing the national championship game, Day didn’t say anything necessarily revelatory about the next starting quarterback in an Ohio State uniform. He talked about how they’d “roll” Stroud, Miller and incoming five-star freshman Kyle McCord in practice before one of them organically pulls ahead and takes most of the reps behind center. He referenced the game-like situations the coaches will have to prepare for them this spring to get them a better understanding of what it’ll be like when the season rolls around later this year.
Largely, he divulged nothing new.
But oftentimes when it comes to quarterback, the most important position in football and the spot at which Ohio State tries its hardest to act like everybody is on par with each other until something is completely obvious, a head coach won’t let anything slip about where players sit on a depth chart. That’s especially true when the Buckeyes’ offseason has only just gotten underway.
Remember the 2019 quarterback competition between Fields, Matthew Baldwin, Gunnar Hoak and Chris Chugunov? That, for all intents and purposes, was a fake contest with only one possible outcome: Fields starting. Still, at the time, Day steadfastly acted as though any of them had a chance to follow in Dwayne Haskins’ footsteps at quarterback.
The head coach will do the same this spring and summer, but it will almost certainly feel more sincere. What Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis will preside over this offseason between Stroud, Miller and McCord should be a legitimate battle between three quarterbacks who all could potentially win the starting job.
But even accounting for Day’s comments about everybody on a level playing field and the legitimacy of the competition between three quarterbacks, it’s absolutely fair to wonder whether this might be Stroud’s job to lose. Oftentimes, actions speak louder than words, and the team’s actions regarding the second-year signal-caller from Rancho Cucamonga, California, have been telling dating back to the recruiting process.
Day took over the program with Miller in tow. The Scottsdale, Arizona, product had committed to Urban Meyer in the summer of 2018. His pledge didn’t prevent Ohio State from chasing Stroud, though, whom the coaches watched win the Elite 11 MVP in July 2019 before extending a scholarship offer a little over a month later.
Miller stayed true to his word by remaining committed even as the school he had been committed to recruited and eventually signed Stroud. But along the way, Day had to know the pursuit could conceivably cost the Buckeyes the long-time pledge. He went after Stroud anyway and managed to land them both.
Since the two quarterbacks stepped foot onto campus a year ago, Day and the other coaches have been careful not to say too much about where they stand in comparison to each other. But as with what usually happens at the position, their actions spoke loudest.
Who was it that took the field in the middle of the second quarter versus Michigan State when Fields got dinged up? Stroud. Over the course of the 2020 season, it became apparent that Stroud had become the backup.
And now, with a year of experience in the program even without throwing a single pass, he could have an edge on Miller and McCord as they officially begin offseason workouts together next week.
As a top-50 overall recruit, he has the package of talent Ohio State needs. As a second-year player in a room where nobody has thrown a pass at the collegiate level, he doesn’t have a dearth of experience compared to the others. As last season’s backup to Fields, he perhaps was the one who impressed enough behind the scenes to have Chris Olave and Jeremy Ruckert putting their trust in whomever they believe to be the starting quarterback in 2021.
Miller and McCord will each take their shot at winning the job, and Day and Dennis won’t want to rush the process. The winner of the competition could be a multi-year starter, and nobody quite knows if either or both of the eventual backups would be willing to stick around for several years, so it’s incumbent upon the coaches to make sure they pick the best option from this trio.
But if Stroud is the guy Day thought he was when he recruited him, then what he wrote might be correct. Come September, it could be his turn.