COLUMBUS — State the obvious first: Justin Fields isn’t going to be sticking around for three seasons at Ohio State.
The next part still has a season left to clear it up, and it might be a little crazy to talk about it right now. But Fields has a chance to leave a truly remarkable legacy with the Buckeyes despite spending just two campaigns with them, and it’s probably already fair to include him in the discussion about the best quarterbacks in the decorated history of the program.
Is the conversation premature? Certainly, because a lot can change over the course of a season. But the list of remarkable accomplishments from a year ago along with the projections of what he could become as a junior are a reminder that he’s heading into what might be the most anticipated, hyped season by an Ohio State quarterback ever.
Fields is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s expected to again win every game in the regular season, claim another Big Ten title and get Ohio State back to the College Football Playoff — and then erase the memory of his only loss as a starter when he gets there. Then once his decision about turning pro is official, there’s already a debate about whether he should be the No. 1 overall pick.
The Buckeyes have had no shortage of record-breakers, winners, electric athletes and hard-nosed leaders at the position throughout their history. They can also all attest to just how intense the pressure to lead one of the sport’s few true powerhouses truly is regardless of facing any of those other factors. But there’s never really been a guy with all of those factors heaped onto his shoulders at once, which is going to make his response to the challenge even more fascinating this season as he reports back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Monday.
“Well, that was the conversation all along,” Day said. “We’ll put him in position to go to New York City and to be a first-round draft pick. It’s his job to be a great leader and bring a championship back to Ohio State. I think there’s a certain level of trust there, and his development this past year has been tremendous. Still got a long way to go.
“But, no, it won’t change [the approach] all. First of all, there’s been that kind of hype around Justin Fields ever since he picked up a football. Whether it was the No. 1 recruit in the country, QB1, transferring from Georgia, going to the Heisman this year and now it will be the NFL Draft. It’s part of being the quarterback at Ohio State.”
The expectations are always enormous for the Buckeyes at the most important position on the field, that’s true. But there really hasn’t been a perfect storm like this one ever brewing so clearly in the offseason forecast before.
Even just looking back at recent history, when Dwayne Haskins took over the job he didn’t have to deal with any summer discussions about declaring for the draft early or emerging into a Heisman Trophy finalist. J.T. Barrett knew the stakes when it came to winning every week, but he never had much NFL stock. Cardale Jones certainly didn’t have much buzz when he was thrust into the top position almost overnight, then he had to deal with a full year of quarterback controversy after that.
Braxton Miller came close to reaching this kind of fevered pitch before injuries derailed his career at the position. And Troy Smith obviously delivered on most of the items on the checklist on the way to producing Ohio State’s last Heisman victory.
But there’s perhaps never been anything quite like the National-championship-Heisman-Trophy-Top-pick-or-Bust campaign ahead of Justin Fields. And it’s going to be wildly entertaining to watch, because he’s already left no doubt that he’s capable of delivering it.