COLUMBUS — In the spring of 2016, then Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had a decision to make.
The Buckeyes had solid trio of quarterbacks on their roster through the 2017 season, and they had a long-time commitment in Danny Clark waiting in the Class of 2017. Still, the upcoming departure of J.T. Barrett and the understanding that the battle between Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow to be Barrett’s backup would likely lead to one transfer was causing some concerns about the depth of the position in the future.
Meyer and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck decided to take the chance and recruit a second quarterback for the Class of 2017 to complement Clark. They went after two-time high school national champion Tate Martell, who eventually committed to the Buckeyes — which led to the eventual decommitment of Clark, putting Ohio State right back where it started.
It’s been a quarterback carousel in Columbus since then that has left the Buckeyes searching far and wide to get the roster numbers back to where Ryan Day wants it: Four scholarship quarterbacks. To get to that number in the 2018 season, Ohio State added Chris Chugunov just weeks before the season began to push Martell for the backup role behind Haskins because true freshman Matthew Baldwin was unavailable as he recovered from a knee surgery.
Haskins, Martell and Baldwin had each left Ohio State by the end of spring football last year, leaving only Fields and Chugunov on the roster. The Buckeyes would add Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak two months later, but again, managing the roster at the game’s most important position was a headache that wouldn’t go away.
“It’s pretty wild right now,” Day said in December of 2018, just two weeks after being named head coach at Ohio State. “The thing that’s tough about quarterbacks is only one quarterback can play. These guys want to play.”
Ohio State has four scholarship quarterbacks now, but Gunnar Hoak will be gone after the upcoming season and Justin Fields is most certainly expected to be as well. That means, without any further attrition — and that’s never guaranteed in the transfer portal era — the Buckeyes are going to enter the 2021 season with C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord on the roster.
And Ryan Day is back to square one, down one quarterback — at least.
As the world of college football changes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the almost certain-to-be approved one-time transfer exceptions, it’s going to be much easier for players that live 2,000-plus miles from Ohio State to move along without restriction. What if Stroud or Miller decided they’re better off closer to their families on the West Coast? Will the Buckeyes turn to the transfer portal themselves once more, or is there justification to be proactive and recruit a second quarterback in the Class of 2021?
Even if there’s unexpected attrition between now and the start of the 2021 season there’s only three quarterbacks on that season’s roster. If Day is true to his own preference, one more will have to be added between now and then.
“We always want to have four,” Day said ahead of the 2019 Rose Bowl.
What is the best way to get to that number down the road? Kyle McCord is firmly committed in 2021, and he’s a 5-star prospect who has done nothing in the last year-plus but validate Ohio State’s decision to pick him from a long list of potential options in his class. It’s unlikely that McCord’s commitment would be in danger if a second quarterback was targeted in 2021, because it’s an almost exact recreation of the roster need that prompted the Buckeyes to recruit C.J. Stroud to complement Jack Miller a year ago.
If either Stroud or Miller decided to leave before next season began, is it more prudent for Ohio State to wait and add another player in the mold of Chugunov and Hoak? Is that the right decision either way?
Roster management and makeup is a major piece of running a long-term, successful program and juggling the quarterback position remains one of the game’s most difficult aspects of it.
Is it better to be proactive or reactive? That’s a question Ryan Day is going to have to answer — again.