Ranking Ohio State’s Top 10 Quarterbacks of the 21st Century

By Dan Hope on January 31, 2023 at 8:35 am
Justin Fields

The standard for quarterback play at Ohio State has increased significantly since the turn of the century.

Until recently, Ohio State was never known for being a haven for elite quarterbacks. That’s certainly changed over the past five years, as C.J. Stroud was the third straight Ohio State starting quarterback to be a Heisman Trophy finalist (in his case, twice) and will soon follow in Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins’ footsteps to also become a first-round NFL draft pick.

They aren’t the only Ohio State quarterbacks in the new millennium who established themselves among the best quarterbacks in school history. Troy Smith became the first (and still only) Ohio State quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 2006. J.T. Barrett set just about all of Ohio State’s school records during his four-year run as a starter. Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor might be the two most dynamic athletes to ever play quarterback for the Buckeyes. Cardale Jones and Craig Krenzel both led the Buckeyes to national championships.

With Stroud’s Ohio State career now complete but the discussion of his legacy still ongoing, we decided it was time to decide where he ranks among the 10 best Buckeye quarterbacks of the 21st century.

To compile these rankings, I asked my fellow Eleven Warriors writers to send me their own individual rankings of Ohio State’s 10 best quarterbacks since 2000, then averaged out the rankings from each ballot (including my own) to determine the final ranking order. Our Matt Gutridge also asked Eleven Warriors readers to submit their own rankings, then averaged out their ballots the same way to see which Ohio State quarterbacks they view as the Buckeyes’ best in recent history.

To be eligible for this list, each quarterback had to make at least 10 starts at Ohio State. Therefore, you won’t see quarterbacks who only made occasional starts at OSU like Kenny Guiton, who became a cult hero in Columbus despite starting only two games as a Buckeye.

Our countdown begins with our staff picks for Ohio State’s 10 best quarterbacks of the 21st century.

10. Todd Boeckman

Career Stats: 255-402 passing (63.4%), 3,085 yards, 31 TD, 16 INT (145.4 QB rating)
83 rushing attempts, 85 yards, 1 TD
13-4 record as starter (2007-08), 1-0 vs. Michigan
2007 Big Ten champion, first-team All-Big Ten selection

Boeckman’s numbers pale in comparison to most of the other quarterbacks on this list, but his 2,379 passing yards as Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2007 were the fifth-most in a single season in school history at the time. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as he led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and a national championship game berth in his lone season as the starter. His run as Ohio State’s starting quarterback ended when he was replaced by Terrelle Pryor three games into the 2008 season, but his accomplishments in 2007 earned him a rightful place in Ohio State’s top 10 quarterbacks since 2000.

9. Craig Krenzel

Career Stats: 328-577 passing (56.8%), 4,489 yards, 28 TD, 21 INT (130.9 QB rating)
247 rushing attempts, 600 yards, 6 TD
24-3 record as starter (2001-03), 2-1 vs. Michigan
2002 national champion, Big Ten champion

Krenzel will always have a place in Ohio State lore as the starting quarterback of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship team. From his iconic “Holy Buckeye” pass to Michael Jenkins against Purdue to running for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the national championship game against Miami, Krenzel did what the Buckeyes needed him to do to win every game they played in 2002 – and all but three games he started over a three-year span.

All of the quarterbacks ahead of Krenzel on this countdown were better passers, and most of them were more dynamic runners, too. But Krenzel still won eight times as many games as he lost as a starter.

8. Cardale Jones

Career Stats: 166-269 passing (61.7%), 2,322 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT (147.4 QB rating)
153 rushing attempts, 617 yards, 4 TD
11-0 record as starter (2014-15)
2014 national champion, Big Ten champion

No Ohio State quarterback has ever had a more iconic three-game run than Jones had in 2014, when Jones replaced J.T. Barrett after a season-ending injury and led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship Game win and a pair of College Football Playoff wins in his first three career starts. Jones also went 8-0 as a starter in 2015, making him the only Ohio State quarterback with more than five career starts to never lose a game he started.

Jones’ big arm helped open things up for Ezekiel Elliott to run wild in Ohio State’s 2014 championship run, and Jones became an instant OSU legend in the process. What keeps “12 Gauge” from being higher on this list: He never started a full season for the Buckeyes, as Barrett re-emerged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback by the end of the 2015 season. 

7. Terrelle Pryor

Career Stats: 477-783 passing (60.9%), 6,177 yards, 57 TD, 26 INT (144.6 QB rating)
436 rushing attempts, 2,164 yards, 17 TD; 3 receptions, 24 yards, 2 TD
31-4 record as starter (2008-10 with 12 wins vacated), 3-0 vs. Michigan
2008 and 2019 Big Ten champion

If not for the controversial ending to his career, Pryor would likely be further up this list. From a pure talent perspective, Pryor was one of the most gifted quarterbacks Ohio State has ever had, possessing elite athleticism and plenty of big-play ability as both a passer and a runner. If you include his wins and stats from the 2010 season, which no longer officially count due to NCAA sanctions, he was one of the most successful quarterbacks in OSU history too, winning 31 of his 35 starts – tying Cornelius Green for the third-most wins for any OSU quarterback behind only J.T. Barrett and Art Schlichter.

Pryor’s role in the infamous “Tattoo-Gate” scandal, which led to his exit from Ohio State before the 2011 season, largely overshadowed his accomplishments from his three years as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback. While he was actually playing, though, Pryor was one of the most dynamic dual-threats Ohio State has ever had behind center.

6. Braxton Miller

Career Stats: 396-667 passing (59.4%), 5,295 yards, 52 TD, 17 INT (146.7 QB rating)
600 rushing attempts, 3,315 yards, 33 TD; 25 catches, 340 yards, 3 TD
26-8 record as starter (2011-13), 2-1 vs. Michigan
2012 and 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year

Miller would likely be higher on this list if he hadn’t suffered a shoulder injury before the 2014 season that effectively ended his quarterback career. Even still, Miller’s ranking outside the top five speaks to how high the standard of quarterback play has become at Ohio State over the past decade, as Miller was undeniably one of the most dynamic playmakers the Buckeyes have ever had.

While Miller had his ups and downs as a passer, he’s the best pure runner Ohio State has ever had at the quarterback position. He’s the only Buckeye not named Archie Griffin to twice win the Silver Football as the Big Ten player of the year, and he won 22 straight starts as part of a school-record 24-game win streak between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. As the first superstar of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State, Miller set the stage for the quarterback greatness that has followed him over the past nine years.

5. J.T. Barrett

Career Stats: 769-1211 passing (63.5%), 9,434 yards, 104 TD, 30 INT (152.3 QB rating)
656 rushing attempts, 3,263 yards, 43 TD
38-6 record as starter (2014-17), 4-0 vs. Michigan
2017 Big Ten champion, three-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year

Barrett was the most polarizing quarterback in our balloting. While he was ranked sixth or lower on half of our staffers’ ballots, he also received multiple first-place votes, earning him a top-five spot in the rankings when the results were averaged out.

The case for Barrett is simple: He holds most of Ohio State’s career records for quarterbacks including most passing and total yards, most passing and total touchdowns and most wins. He’s the only player to ever win the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year award three times, he’s the only Ohio State quarterback with four wins as a starter against Michigan and he was a revered leader who became the first-ever three-time captain in school history.

Those records can all be attributed to Barrett’s longevity as much as his talent. He wasn’t the explosive athlete Miller and Pryor were before him, and he wasn’t the NFL-caliber passer the quarterbacks since him have been. Barrett’s records speak for themselves, though, and as exceedingly rare as it now is for a collegiate quarterback to be a four-year starter, many of those records will likely never be broken.

4. Dwayne Haskins

Career Stats: 413-590 passing (70%), 5,396 yards, 54 TD, 9 INT (174.0 QB rating)
103 rushing attempts, 194 yards, 4 TD
13-1 record as starter (2018), 1-0 vs. Michigan
2018 Big Ten champion, Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist

Haskins was only Ohio State’s starting quarterback for one season, but that one season was historic. His 373 completions, 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes in 2018 are all Big Ten records, and his 70% career completion rate is the best in school history.

As the first Ohio State quarterback of the century to be a first-round NFL draft pick, Haskins played a massive role in establishing Ohio State as a destination for elite passing prospects. Both Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud cited Haskins’ performance as an influence in their decisions to become Buckeyes, and the bar he set for single-season passing excellence is one Ohio State quarterbacks could still be chasing for years to come.

3. C.J. Stroud

Career Stats: 575-830 passing (69.3%), 8,123 yards, 85 TD, 12 INT (182.4 QB rating)
80 rushing attempts, 136 yards, 1 TD
21-4 record as starter (2021-22), 0-2 vs. Michigan
2021 and 2022 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, two-time Heisman Trophy finalist

No Ohio State quarterback has ever been more prolific passing the ball over a two-year span than Stroud was over the past two seasons. He became the first Ohio State quarterback to ever be a two-time finalist for the Heisman Trophy while he broke the Big Ten record for career passer rating and the school record for the most passing yards per game, all while throwing more than seven times as many touchdown passes as interceptions.

Stroud can be knocked for never beating Michigan and rarely running the ball, but he was still ranked either second or third on more than half of our staffers’ ballots. He’s the purest passer Ohio State has ever had, which might result in him becoming the highest-drafted Ohio State quarterback ever this April – or at least, the highest-drafted quarterback since Art Schlichter went fourth in 1982.

2. Troy Smith

Career Stats: 420-670 passing (62.7%), 5,720 yards, 54 TD, 13 INT (157.1 QB rating)
293 rushing attempts, 1,168 yards, 14 TD
25-3 record as starter (2004-06), 3-0 vs. Michigan
2006 Heisman Trophy winner and Big Ten Player of the Year, two-time Big Ten champion

Still the only Ohio State quarterback who has ever won the Heisman, Smith was a unanimous top-three selection on all of our staffers’ ballots. No Ohio State quarterback has ever had a more decorated individual season than Smith had in 2006, when he also became Ohio State’s only first-team All-American quarterback of the 21st century and led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 regular season record and a berth in the national championship game.

There may not be anyone who played a bigger role in raising the standard of quarterback play at Ohio State than Smith, who finished his career as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in passing efficiency despite being more prolific as a runner earlier in his career. His winning percentage as a starter is the second-highest among 21st-century Ohio State quarterbacks who were the starter for more than one full season, and he was at his best in The Game, totaling more than 300 combined yards as a passer and runner while leading the Buckeyes to wins in each of his three starts against Michigan.

1. Justin Fields

Career Stats: 396-579 passing (68.4%), 5,373 yards, 63 TD, 9 INT (179.1 QB rating)
218 rushing attempts, 867 yards, 15 TD
20-2 record as starter (2019-20), 1-0 vs. Michigan
2019 and 2020 Big Ten champion, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year, 2019 Heisman finalist

Fields received six of 10 first-place votes in our balloting, making him the consensus choice for Ohio State’s best quarterback of the 21st century.

No Ohio State quarterback has ever offered a more explosive combination of passing and running ability than Fields, who picked up where Haskins left off to keep Ohio State’s passing offense elite while also making game-changing plays with his legs. While his second season as a Buckeye was shortened to only eight games because of COVID-19, Fields still accumulated more than 6,000 total yards and 78 total touchdowns in just 22 games as a Buckeye, in which he never suffered a regular-season loss.

Fields is the most talented all-around quarterback Ohio State has ever had, and he made the most of that talent with two spectacular seasons in scarlet and gray. If we were drafting one former Ohio State quarterback to win a big game for the Buckeyes, we’d likely pick Fields – and that’s why he earns the top spot in our rankings.

Reader Picks

1. Justin Fields (Average Ranking: 1.7)
2. Troy Smith (Average Ranking: 2.5)
3. C.J. Stroud (Average Ranking: 4.2)
4. Dwayne Haskins (Average Ranking: 4.9)
5. Braxton Miller (Average Ranking: 5.5)
5. J.T. Barrett (Average Ranking: 5.5)
7. Craig Krenzel (Average Ranking: 6.2)
8. Cardale Jones (Average Ranking: 7.4)
9. Terrelle Pryor (Average Ranking: 7.6)
10. Todd Boeckman (Average Ranking: 10.1)

The biggest discrepancy between our staff rankings and the ballots submitted by Eleven Warriors readers came with the rankings of Krenzel and Pryor, with Krenzel moving up two spots in the fan rankings and Pryor dropping two slots in the reader survey. Krenzel’s average ranking on reader ballots was more than two points higher than on staff ballots, as the national championship winner received several first-place fan votes, while Pryor’s average ranking among fans was one point lower than the staff average.

Our readers agreed with us on the top four Ohio State quarterbacks of the century, with Fields receiving a majority of first-place votes and Smith receiving most of the others (Krenzel received three and Steve Bellisari received one). Stroud, Miller, Barrett and Jones all received at least one second-place vote on reader ballots while Haskins did not, but Haskins still finished with the fourth-highest average while Miller and Barrett tied for fifth.

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