True Freshman Julian Sayin “In the Mix” As Ohio State’s Quarterback Competition Continues Into Spring Game

By Dan Hope on April 12, 2024 at 8:35 am
Julian Sayin

Even with three more experienced scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in front of him, Julian Sayin is putting himself in the conversation to potentially be Ohio State’s starting quarterback this year.

The top-ranked quarterback in the 2024 recruiting class has been impressive this spring, so much so that he became the first freshman quarterback to have his black stripe removed during spring practice since Ohio State initiated the tradition in 2012.

As such, Ryan Day isn’t dismissing the possibility that Sayin could become Ohio State’s starting quarterback in his first year of college football.

“He's in the mix,” Day said. “Julian's been competing his tail off and he'll continue to do that and he's got a very bright future, and he's gotta have a really good summer.”

Will Howard, who started 27 games in four seasons at Kansas State, has been the presumptive frontrunner to start at quarterback for Ohio State this season since he transferred to OSU in January. Devin Brown, who backed up Kyle McCord last season and is now in his third year as a Buckeye, has spent much of the spring taking the first reps in the quarterback order, though new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Kelly has rolled all of Brown, Howard, Sayin and redshirt freshman Lincoln Kienholz between the first, second and third-team units.

Howard and Brown have the advantage of multiple years of collegiate experience that Sayin does not, and Day says Sayin still has ground to make up on them as a result. But Day is impressed with how quickly Sayin is making up that ground.

“Just overall experience and then just maturity physically, mentally, emotionally, all those things,” Day said when asked where Sayin still needs to grow. “But he's shown great signs. I think he's put on maybe 15 pounds since he got here, that's great. But the overall strength and just size. And then it’s a matter of just experience. But I like his approach. I mean, I see things in him that lead us to believe he's got a really bright future. And it's very, very encouraging.”

Going into Saturday’s spring game, Day isn’t ready to name anyone as a leader in the quarterback competition. He believes each of Ohio State’s quarterbacks has their strengths, and he thinks they’ve all shown flashes throughout the spring. Ultimately, Day said, the job will be won by the quarterback who can make plays with the most consistency.

“I don't think we've narrowed it down. But you're seeing guys make certain plays and certain things that are showing up in practice,” Day said. “As we start to get into some of the move-it stuff and you get into situational things, you're starting to just see commonalities. These guys bring great things to the table. Each guy brings either an experience or a skill set that's different from the others. 

“The good news is they all can move, and that's certainly made an impact on the run game and the pass game. There's good things there. There's still things that they're improving on. But you're seeing some separation. I wouldn't say that I'm ready to name a starter or anything like that, but there's been good competition and guys have made plays. But I think ultimately what we're looking for is the consistency over time.”

When asked if Howard is the frontrunner to start, Day said the Buckeyes “haven't really talked about that very much, but his experience is definitely showing.”

“I think that he's played a lot of football before and I think his combination on the field of being able to extend plays with his feet, run in the run game, pull the ball, we've seen that happen before. And then be accurate in the pocket throwing the ball, play action on the move, all those things put stress on the defense,” Day said. “So we're trying to put him in the most difficult situations we possibly can: Third down, third-and-long, second-and-long, different situations, just to see how those guys respond, just like everybody else.

“But one thing about Will is he's working really hard. He's in the building early. He's in the building late. He's putting a lot of work in. You can just see that. I think the guys see that. And another part of all those quarterbacks is, what do the guys think? What do the receivers think? What does the offensive line think? And I think he's done a really good job of trying to win those guys over. I think all the quarterbacks have, but you definitely see the hard work there. You see the experience and you see the ability. I think every practice that he's out there, he's learning the offense and feeling more comfortable with it.”

As for Brown, Day said the redshirt sophomore’s experience within Ohio State’s offense has shown this spring, though the Buckeyes still want to see more consistency from him.

“A lot of the things that we're doing is still what we've done in the past. So he probably feels the most comfortable out there with the offense, and you see that,” Day said. “The big thing with him is just being as consistent as he possibly can and keep the offense moving because he certainly has the ability and definitely flashes.”

While Ohio State’s quarterback competition is likely to continue into preseason camp in August, Day says “Saturday will be another barometer to figure out where guys are at” as the Buckeyes evaluate how each quarterback performs in the spotlight of playing in front of a large crowd at Ohio Stadium in a nationally televised spring game.

“A good opportunity for some of these guys to get out there and play, Lincoln and Julian, but then also Devin and Will,” Day said. “I feel like the more reps these guys get in those types of environments, you see what it looks like, and then they grow from there. So you're trying to see where they're at, but you're also trying to project where they can be as we head into the summer.”

The number of quarterbacks competing for the starting job could shrink between the end of spring and the start of preseason camp, particularly if any of the Buckeyes’ current quarterbacks choose to enter the transfer portal. But Day believes it is more important than ever for Ohio State to have multiple quarterbacks who are ready to play this season because the Buckeyes plan to use their quarterbacks more in the running game than they have in recent years.

“We're gonna run the quarterbacks some this year. And because of that, we're going to need depth. And so that room's got to be strong,” Day said.

With that in mind, Day says Sayin’s mindset should be that he will have the opportunity to play as a freshman regardless of whether he wins the starting job. And Day isn’t ruling out the possibility that Sayin could be quarterbacking Ohio State’s offense in the biggest games of the season.

“The mindset for him is that he needs to be ready to go play at Oregon. He's gotta be ready to go play at Penn State. He's gotta be ready to go play against the team up north. He's gotta go play for the Big Ten and the national championship. And that's in his mind,” Day said. “Because we know the last time the national championship was won here, we were onto quarterback three.

“If he's the best available at the time, then he's gonna play.”

“I see things in him that lead us to believe he's got a really bright future. And it's very, very encouraging.”– Ryan Day on Julian Sayin

Day believes Sayin has taken the right approach this spring for a freshman quarterback competing to climb the depth chart right away.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Day said. “I mean, he has a good plan when he gets out there. Doesn't want to get his hand held. I've been impressed with his approach. And like I said before, he's got a really, really bright future. I mean, how fast he gets on the field will be just kind of up to him.”

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