COLUMBUS — Apparently predicting a Heisman Trophy win for Justin Fields was too easy.
Sure, the Ohio State junior quarterback is the odds-on favorite, but it’s still an incredibly difficult accomplishment to actually go out and back up that hype as the best player in America.
But as our Lettermen Row Bold Predictions returned in offseason form as part of Quarterback Week, nobody on the staff actually made the stiff-arm statue part of the predictions for the Buckeyes or Fields this season. But that’s only because given a vote, all five guys believe Fields is the favorite for a reason and more than capable of claiming the hardware this season.
“Well, that was the conversation all along,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said earlier this year. “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.”
Fields obviously dominates the conversation for the Buckeyes, and he sets the tone at a position where only one guy can play at a time. But there is plenty of talent behind him as well, and Ohio State as a whole might just have a unit that qualifies as the envy of college football this season.
How will it shake out for Ohio State? Let’s get to it.
Austin Ward: C.J. Stroud pulls ahead as heir apparent
If there was a game this weekend, Gunnar Hoak would need to be the backup quarterback behind Justin Fields. But Hoak will be gone after the season, and the Buckeyes will have a somewhat tricky balancing act between making sure he’s ready if needed and getting freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller ready to take over after Fields declares for the NFL Draft. The competition between the early enrollees was put on hold in spring thanks to the pandemic, and both had already shown some encouraging signs during the three practices they got on the field with the Buckeyes. Obviously there’s a long way to go, but Stroud just appears to have everything needed to become a superstar — and the pick here is that he’ll eventually pull ahead as the next in line.
Birm: Justin Fields will account for 60 touchdowns
If the Buckeyes play a full season, there is nothing outside of injury that should stop the Heisman frontrunner from accumulating statistics close to what Joe Burrow put up in his senior season at LSU. Burrow threw 60 touchdowns and rushed for five more, and while Fields may not break that total, the odds of him reaching 60 total scores in a 13- or 14-game season are very high. Ohio State will have one of the country’s most high-powered offenses, and with fresh legs and no J.K. Dobbins absorbing 300-plus carries, Fields will be turned loose on defenses all season long.
Tim May: Justin Fields will be even more efficient passer
It was funny a few weeks ago to read an analysis of Justin Fields as a passer last year and where he needs to improve. The author spent a while criticizing Fields for fixating on a receiver and not scanning the field, so to speak. And that was true early when Fields was a first-year starter just trying to establish himself. As the season went on, though, he improved more and more — sometimes from possession to possession, but definitely from game to game — at the art of being a passing quarterback. Besides, many of the Ohio State pass plays are designed to spring one particular receiver in a favorable matchup. Is Fields a finished product? Not by any sense. But what stood out last season was his continuing improvement, and that is expected again this season as Fields learns more and more about opposing defensive schemes and how to exploit them. He probably could be the best running quarterback in the country, but he appears determined to be a highly efficient passer who just so happens to be able to beat you with his feet if he has to.
Spencer Holbrook: Justin Fields will flirt with 4,000 passing yards
Fields was brilliant last season, but he only had 3,273 yards passing in the Buckeyes offense. While J.K. Dobbins was rushing for 2,000 yards and setting records, Fields didn’t have to do as much with his arm. This season might play out differently. With a banged up stable of running backs, coupled with an expanded Ryan Day playbook, Fields will have everything at his disposal to put up video game numbers. Could that mean getting to 4,000 yards passing? I crunched the numbers a few weeks ago and left him 11 yards short of that mark — but he can find those 11 passing yards somewhere along the way.
Will Crall: Fields will pull ahead as No. 1 draft pick
Justin Fields will surpass Trevor Lawrence as the best quarterback in college football and will be selected first in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is a great quarterback, but Fields has only scratched the surface of his potential. Fields has posted photos of himself working out on social media throughout the quarantine, and it’s safe to say he’s been following the guidance of the Ohio State strength staff — he looks absolutely shredded. More important, Fields will benefit from another season under the direction of Ryan Day, who will mold him into the first overall NFL Draft pick in April 2021.