Ohio State’s Future at Quarterback Still Looks Bright, Though Quinn Ewers’ Early Departure Won’t Be Forgotten

By Dan Hope on December 3, 2021 at 11:38 pm
Kyle McCord and C.J. Stroud
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

From the moment he announced he was reclassifying into the recruiting class of 2021, there was always reason to wonder if Quinn Ewers would ever play a snap at Ohio State.

Until then, there was a clear path for Ewers to potentially be Ohio State’s starting quarterback for multiple seasons. While he would have had to sit behind C.J. Stroud for one year as a true freshman, he would have been poised to compete with Kyle McCord for the starting job in his second season as a Buckeye. Had he won that competition, Ewers would have theoretically been in line to start for the Buckeyes in 2023 and 2024 before entering the 2025 NFL draft.

As soon as Ewers joined Ohio State a year earlier than originally planned, the Buckeyes’ quarterback succession was thrown into disarray. Suddenly, Ohio State had two quarterbacks from the recruiting class of 2020 and the recruiting class of 2021 all on its roster at the same time, creating a situation that would almost certainly be unsustainable, especially now that players have the freedom to transfer once and play immediately.

By choosing to enroll at Ohio State in August – far too late to become a serious contender in this year’s starting quarterback competition, which was nearly over by the time he arrived – Ewers entered into a situation in which he would have to wait two full years before getting his first real chance to compete for Ohio State’s starting quarterback job after Stroud solidified himself as Ohio State’s starter for the next two years by earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors this season.

On Friday, Ewers decided he didn’t want to wait any longer, entering the transfer portal after fewer than four months in Columbus.

From the perspective of losing the highest-rated recruit in school history before he ever even threw a pass for the Buckeyes, his decision to leave Ohio State so quickly comes as a massive disappointment for Buckeye fans. Possessing rare arm talent for a quarterback who should still be in high school, Ewers has superstar potential, and that potential will never be realized in Columbus.

If he realizes that potential somewhere else, Ohio State fans will be left to wonder what could have been, much like when Joe Burrow transferred from Ohio State before the 2018 season and went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead LSU to a national championship in 2019. As soon as Ewers sees playing time and achieves anything anywhere else, comparisons will surely be drawn between him and whoever’s playing quarterback for Ohio State at the time, and questions will be asked of whether Ohio State could and/or should have done more to keep Ewers happy.

Yet there’s still reason to believe the future of Ohio State’s quarterback position is in very good hands.

First and foremost, Ohio State will still have Stroud for another year. Although there was a vocal segment of the Ohio State fan base that wanted to see Ewers get a shot at the starting job next year even with Stroud returning, an open competition for the starting job was never going to be reality after Stroud completed 70.9 percent of his passing attempts for 3,862 yards and 38 touchdowns with only five interceptions in 11 games for Ohio State during the regular season, which will likely earn him a trip to New York next week as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Additionally, Ewers wasn’t the only five-star quarterback in Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2021. McCord, the third-highest-rated quarterback to ever sign with Ohio State out of high school, impressed Ohio State coaches enough this offseason to beat out Jack Miller for the No. 2 quarterback job and retained that position on the depth chart even after Ewers arrived. He performed well enough filling in for Stroud against Akron, completing 13 of 18 passing attempts for 319 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his first career start.

Kyle McCord
With Quinn Ewers gone, Kyle McCord stands as Ohio State’s most likely next starting quarterback after C.J. Stroud.

Even if Ewers had stayed, he would have had to beat out McCord for the starting quarterback job in 2023, and that was no certainty. McCord also has the arm to be an elite college passer and a future NFL quarterback, and while his performance hasn’t been spectacular in five game appearances this season, it shouldn’t be forgotten he’s only a true freshman and will likely be far more ready to play next year after another full offseason of development.

Ohio State also just added another potential starting quarterback of the future to its roster for next season when Devin Brown committed to the Buckeyes on Wednesday. Ranked as the No. 52 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2022, Brown is another strong-armed downfield passer who gives the Buckeyes another promising option to succeed Stroud in 2023 or potentially McCord after that.

The departures of both Miller and Ewers in a span of six days is an undeniable hit to Ohio State’s quarterback depth for next season, as the Buckeyes will now have just two returning scholarship quarterbacks next year. But attrition in the quarterback room this offseason was never going to be avoided. That’s why Ohio State made a late run at Brown, who the Buckeyes likely would have started recruiting much earlier if Ewers hadn’t originally been their quarterback for the 2022 class, and flipping him from USC gives the Buckeyes a roster of three quarterbacks for next season that will still be as talented as any quarterback room in the country.

Ewers’ early exit does make it more important for Ohio State to land another quarterback in the recruiting class of 2023, as next season will likely be Stroud’s final season as a Buckeye before he begins his NFL career. As of now, there’s no clear frontrunner to be Ohio State’s signal-caller in that class, though the Buckeyes have offers out to four uncommitted quarterbacks (five-stars Dante Moore and Nicholaus Iamaleava and four-stars Jackson Arnold and Dylan Lonergan) who could potentially see a clearer opportunity to compete for immediate playing time in Columbus now that Ewers is gone.

Ohio State is considered to be among the early frontrunners for Jadyn Davis, the No. 1 overall prospect and quarterback in the 2024 class, while two highly touted 2024 quarterbacks who already have offers from the Buckeyes, Dylan Raiola and Adrian Posse, also visited Ohio State this fall.

As long as Ryan Day and the Buckeyes can continue to successfully recruit top quarterbacks to Ohio State on an annual basis, they’ll likely continue to have excellent quarterback play even without Ewers. By aggressively recruiting top quarterbacks to come to Ohio State every year, Day has built the quarterback room to be bigger than any one player.

Still, Ewers’ decision to leave Ohio State after just one season is a specter that could loom over the Buckeyes in the next couple of years if he ends up becoming the superstar quarterback he’s long been expected to be.

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