The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Justin Fields and the Ohio State quarterback situation? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
@AWardSports what has to happen in order for Fields to lose his grip on the starting job?
— Mark Nuzum (@samark2013) July 22, 2019
Officially, Justin Fields doesn’t have his hands on the starting job for Ohio State just yet. Ryan Day has been quick to remind anybody who asks that the five-star transfer hasn’t earned the position and there isn’t a depth chart at quarterback heading into training camp.
Fields can safely be called the overwhelming favorite to eventually claim that critical spot for the Buckeyes, though. He’s also got a head start over Gunnar Hoak since Fields beat him to campus in time for spring practice — not to mention the best recruiting ranking in the history of the program. So, yes, it would be a major surprise if Fields doesn’t take the first snap of the season for Ohio State on Aug. 31.
What would it take for an upset?
No offense to Hoak, but the most likely scenario that doesn’t include Fields starting would be some sort of injury during August. Day even hinted at that during his appearance at Big Ten Media Days next week, suggesting that a key part of his patient approach in naming a starter is that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to health.
“Somebody could step off a curb [wrong] tomorrow,” Day said. “You’d like to get [the competition] done within the first couple weeks of camp, for sure. You’d like to know who that is, because if it goes into the third week of preseason camp, then either they’re both competing at a high level or nobody has stepped up yet. We’d like to have that within the second week of camp.
“But if not, we’ll just keep it going. You just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Assuming Fields and Hoak are both healthy, the other possible scenario would probably boil down to the passing ability of the top contenders to replace Dwayne Haskins.
Fields was a bit inconsistent with the football during spring drills, which is neither surprising nor even a reason for concern for a quarterback just starting to get comfortable in a new system. Ohio State’s confidence in his ability hasn’t diminished at all, and the reviews for his offseason throwing sessions have all been positive. But if he spends the first couple weeks of camp failing to connect at a reasonable completion percentage, maybe that might crack the door open for Hoak.
For his part, though, Hoak might have to do a spot-on impression of Haskins with his accuracy and arm strength for Ohio State to really consider not going with Fields. Thanks to his athleticism, Fields will bring an element to the rushing attack that Hoak simply can’t match — and if nothing else, it would serve as a tiebreaker for a close decision even if the Buckeyes aren’t trying to spin the clock back by relying too much on a quarterback’s legs.
Those would seem to be the most likely areas that would change the projection for Ohio State at quarterback, but anything can happen in training camp. That’s why Day is so intent on having a head-to-head battle in the first place. The Buckeyes want as much information as they can possibly get before making a final decision, and that’s certainly understandable since neither guy has ever taken a snap for the program in a game yet.
“It’s an interesting situation,” Day said. “Whoever is playing in that first game, it will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar are going to compete like heck to go win the job.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”
The odds are still decidedly in favor of Justin Fields. And as long as he’s healthy, that’s probably not going to change for Ohio State.
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