Going into his third season as Ohio State’s head coach, Ryan Day has done an excellent job of managing the Buckeyes’ roster and keeping it intact.
Dating back to when Day became head coach at the end of the 2018 season, Ohio State has lost just 12 total scholarship players to the transfer portal. Most of those players were backups that were buried on the depth chart and may have never seen substantial playing time if they had stuck around. By limiting attrition and bringing in talented recruiting classes year after year, Day and the Buckeyes have built a roster that is deep and loaded with talent at just about every position.
That’s never been more true than it is right now at the quarterback position, where the Buckeyes now have four scholarship passers who are all talented enough to be the starter at Ohio State. With Quinn Ewers’ decision to enroll at Ohio State one year early, the Buckeyes have now two five-star quarterbacks in Ewers and fellow freshman Kyle McCord, along with a near-five-star quarterback in redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud and another four-star quarterback in redshirt freshman Jack Miller. It's the most talented quarterback roster Ohio State has ever had.
However, keeping that quarterback room together – or as much of it as possible – over the next three years could be the biggest challenge in roster management that Day has faced yet.
Managing that quarterback room was already going to be a challenge even before Ewers opted to reclassify and join the team for the 2021 season. In the new world of college football, where players can transfer and play immediately without sitting out a year, Ohio State had to brace for the possibility that it could lose at least one of those quarterbacks after this season. Day acknowledged that reality at Big Ten Media Days.
“I’m not resigning myself to that. But knowing that that may happen, that’s kind of the way it goes,” Day said. “It’s almost like now it’s like free agency in the NFL, guys can go different places, and I guess you can worry about it, stress about it or you can just embrace it and try to do the best you can to manage it, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Bringing Ewers in a year early could complicate matters even more. When he was still a member of the class of 2022, the expectation was that he would likely succeed whoever won this year’s starting quarterback job and be Ohio State’s quarterback through the 2024 season. But now that he could go to the NFL after the 2023 season, how long will he be willing to wait his turn? Or if he takes over the starting quarterback job in the next two years, could he drive everyone else out of the room? Those are both now questions that loom over the position group.
In an ideal world, all of the quarterbacks who don’t win the starting quarterback job this year would stick around for the chance to compete for the starting job again whenever it next opens up. In a realistic world, that’s probably not going to happen, as all four quarterbacks will have little trouble finding opportunities to start elsewhere if they don’t want to wait.
Looking ahead to the future, Ohio State must now prepare for the chance that all four quarterbacks currently on the roster will be gone by the end of the 2023 season – and that some, if not most, could leave after this year or next. Ewers’ decision to reclassify makes it much more important for Ohio State to land a top quarterback in the recruiting class of 2023, and should give the Buckeyes reason to explore the possibility of adding another quarterback in the 2022 class, though their options in that class could be limited at this point.
Day and Corey Dennis’ most important recruiting job now, though, will be convincing the quarterbacks who didn’t win the starting job this year to trust the process and stick around.
Hypothetically, that will probably be easier to do if Stroud – who’s still widely viewed as the frontrunner to start this year – or Miller wins the job. With those two quarterbacks being eligible to go to the NFL after the 2022 season, Dennis and Day could sell Ewers and McCord on the possibility of being able to compete for the job as third-year quarterbacks in 2023.
If McCord or Ewers becomes the starter this year, the other three quarterbacks would all face the possibility of having to wait until their fourth or fifth years for another chance at winning the starting job, and that could give all of them reason to consider going elsewhere.
All of that said, the primary objective going into preseason camp will remain the same as it’s always been: Determining which quarterback will be most successful for Ohio State this season. It’s unlikely Ohio State will have to worry about losing any quarterbacks to the transfer portal this year, as the deadline for players to enter the portal and play this season has already passed.
As the season progresses, however, Day and Dennis will also need to consider whether the quarterback who starts the season opener on Sept. 2 at Minnesota is still the quarterback who should be starting for the rest of the season (barring injury) and into 2022. Because ultimately, the objective needs to be to get three years of championship-caliber quarterback play from whatever combination of Stroud, Miller, Ewers and/or McCord can best deliver that.
“We’re gonna play the best player, and that’s what it’s gonna come down to,” Day said. “I don’t know if it’s gonna be as easy as just saying, ‘OK, here’s the starting quarterback and he’s our guy for three years.’ I’d like to think that’s going to be the case, but my experience tells me that’s not going to be the case. So that’s the unknown of this season, for sure.”
If Ohio State isn’t getting elite quarterback play from one of those quarterbacks in 2023, that would be a failure in roster management, considering how much young talent the Buckeyes have stockpiled in the room. Though it’s likely that at least one or two of the quarterbacks currently on the roster will go on to start elsewhere at some point, Day and Dennis’ job is to ensure that whoever ends up becoming the best quarterback of the quartet does so while starring for the Buckeyes.
That’s much easier said than done, as evidenced by the last time Ohio State had a true quarterback competition in 2018, when Dwayne Haskins was a Heisman finalist for the Buckeyes but Joe Burrow ended up winning the Heisman and a national championship at LSU one year later. With a quarterback room this talented, one of them winning a Heisman and a national title at Ohio State should be the goal, and anything short of that could lead to second-guessing.
“We’re gonna play the best player, and that’s what it’s gonna come down to.” – Ryan Day on picking a starting quarterback
Given Day’s track record at Ohio State so far, having coached Haskins as offensive coordinator and Justin Fields in his first two years as head coach, there’s reason for optimism that Day and the Buckeyes will get it right, and absolutely reason for excitement about the Buckeyes’ potential for elite quarterback play over the next three years.
Day is just going to have to be at his best as a roster manager along the way to ensure that the Buckeyes have the right quarterback on the field, that they don’t let a better quarterback get away and that they maintain ample depth in the room.