Four Ohio State Transfers Playing Key Roles for Teams Competing for Conference Championships

By Dan Hope on December 1, 2023 at 8:35 am
Quinn Ewers
Maria Lysaker – USA TODAY Sports

With Ohio State’s College Football Playoff hopes hanging by a thread, Buckeye fans have plenty of rooting interests this weekend even though Ohio State won’t be playing in a conference championship game.

Oklahoma State must beat Texas and Louisville must beat Florida State so that there are only three Power 5 conference champions with one loss or fewer. Georgia must beat Alabama to eliminate the possibility of two SEC teams making the CFP. It would help if Washington beats Oregon to erase the chance of two Pac-12 teams making the playoff. There’s two different schools of thought on whether the Buckeyes would benefit from a Michigan loss to Iowa or if it would only hurt their résumé, but most Ohio State fans will want to see anything but the Wolverines celebrating their third straight Big Ten title.

Buckeye fans who watch this weekend’s conference championship games might also notice some familiar faces. Four former scholarship players from Ohio State will be playing for conference championships this weekend, and all four of them are playing key roles for their new teams. 

Quinn Ewers and Ryan Watts aren’t likely to have many in Columbus rooting for them as the Longhorns play for the Big 12 championship vs. Oklahoma State on Saturday at noon (ABC), but there will be plenty in the Buckeye State hoping to see Kaleb Brown give Iowa’s offense a much-needed spark against the Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship Game at 8 p.m. Saturday (FOX). Dallas Gant, meanwhile, will be looking to win his second straight MAC Championship with the Toledo Rockets as they play Miami University in a battle of Ohio teams at noon Saturday (ESPN).

As all of them prepare to play for conference championships this weekend, we look at how each of those former Buckeyes have helped their respective teams make it to this point.

Texas QB Quinn Ewers

While Ewers hasn’t quite become the superstar he was expected to be when he initially signed with Ohio State as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country (even after reclassifying into the 2021 class), he’s been good enough in his second year as Texas’ starting quarterback that he has the Longhorns on the precipice of making their first-ever College Football Playoff.

The strong-armed passer – who no longer sports the mullet he was famous for as a recruit – has completed 69.8 percent of his passing attempts this season for 2,709 yards and 17 touchdowns with five interceptions. He’s also rushed for five touchdowns. Most notably, Ewers threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns to lead Texas to a September road win over Alabama that has kept the Longhorns above the Crimson Tide in the CFP rankings as both teams enter conference championship weekend with 11-1 records.

Had Ewers not left Ohio State after just one year, he might well have been the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this year, though his passer rating and yards per passing attempt this season are slightly lower than those of Kyle McCord.

Quinn Ewers vs. Kyle McCord 2023 Stats
QB % (Cmp-Att) YPG YPA TD INT Rating
Quinn Ewers 69.8 (213-305) 270.9 8.9 17 5 159.6
Kyle McCord 65.8 (229-348) 264.2 9.1 24 6 161.6

Ewers never actually threw a pass for the Buckeyes, but how he performs on Saturday will have a direct impact on Ohio State’s 2023 season, as a Texas win would leave the Buckeyes with no likely path into the playoff.

Texas CB Ryan Watts

Ewers isn’t the only Ohio State transfer who’s become a key player for Texas over the past two years. After playing only sparingly in two seasons as a Buckeye, Watts has started in all 23 games he’s played in since joining the Longhorns in 2022, becoming one of the Big 12’s top cornerbacks.

Whether Watts will be able to play in the Big 12 Championship Game, however, remains in question. He suffered a back injury on the first play of the Longhorns’ 57-7 win over Texas Tech last week and was described as questionable for this week’s game by Texas coach Steve Sarkisian this week. (Update: Watts is not in uniform for Saturday’s game and will not play against Oklahoma State.)

Watts also missed two regular-season games with a hamstring injury but has been a leader of Texas’ secondary when he’s been on the field, recording 32 tackles with three pass breakups and one tackle for loss. Like Ewers, Watts was at his best against Alabama, recording his lone tackle for loss this year and a pass breakup while allowing no catches in that game. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Watts has given up 19 catches for 299 yards and two touchdowns across the 10 games he’s played in this year.

Iowa WR Kaleb Brown

Iowa added Brown this offseason with hopes that he’d help revive an offense that was one of the worst in the country last season, but that wasn’t in the cards with Brian Ferentz still coordinating the offense. The Hawkeyes have actually averaged fewer yards per game than they did a year ago, ranking dead last in the FBS in total offense.

Still, Brown is a starter for a Power 5 team that won its division whereas he likely would have played only sparingly this season if he remained at Ohio State. While he didn’t catch any passes in the first two months of the season, Brown has emerged as Iowa’s top offensive playmaker over the past month, catching 14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown and gaining 33 yards on four carries in Iowa’s four November games, all victories.

With a new offensive coordinator coming to Iowa next season, Brown’s upside for the future is high. In the meantime, he’ll look to do what his former teammates couldn’t and beat Michigan on Saturday – though it would come as a big surprise if that happens as the Wolverines are favored to beat the Hawkeyes by more than three touchdowns.

Toledo LB Dallas Gant

Gant’s success across the past two seasons at Toledo has been an example of the transfer portal working exactly the way it’s supposed to. A backup linebacker for his three-plus seasons at Ohio State, where he graduated with a degree in finance before transferring to his hometown school, Gant has made the most of his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility with the Rockets, earning first-team All-MAC honors in back-to-back years while leading Toledo to back-to-back MAC West titles.

Just three tackles away from becoming the first Toledo player in nine years to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons, Gant is graded by Pro Football Focus as a top-16 linebacker in the entire country this year as he’s excelled in both run defense and coverage. He now has a chance to win the fifth conference championship of his six-year college career as he won Big Ten titles during each of his three full seasons as a Buckeye from 2018-20.

Gant is one of two former Ohio State linebackers on a MAC Championship Game roster as former Buckeye walk-on linebacker Jackson Kuwatch is in his first year at Miami (Ohio) after two years at Ohio State. Kuwatch played 39 defensive snaps in the RedHawks’ first five games of the year, recording five tackles, but he’s played only on special teams since.

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