COLUMBUS — Ryan Day knows what’s coming, and clearly the Ohio State coach is prepared.
Eventually he’s going to have to replace perhaps the best quarterback the Buckeyes have ever had, and that moment will almost certainly arrive shortly after Justin Fields extends this strange season as long as possible. Maybe Day’s remarkable relationship-building, positional expertise and the chance to take another run at a Heisman Trophy is a sales pitch that works even on a surefire first-round draft pick, but he’s not counting on it.
Either way, those same opportunities are proving plenty successful in lining up future replacements. And with another five-star in the fold for Ohio State with Kyle McCord officially signing on Wednesday, it’s undeniable that Day has turned the program into a marquee destination for passers across the country.
So, what’s he going to do with them all? If Fields leaves as expected in January, the Buckeyes clearly have no shortage of future stars with C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller already on hand. But with what amounts to three freshmen, the competition next year is not only fascinating, there’s now a ton of urgency to it as well.
“I mean, any time you are playing with quarterbacks who haven’t played, your comfort level is not real high, I can promise you that,” Day said. “It will be anxious, yeah. But you recruit guys for a reason, and you have to develop them. You have to get them out there, and you have to let them play.
“[Stroud and Miller] haven’t played in games. They’ve got a couple reps here and there, but they haven’t actually played. They have practiced a lot, so I think they’re getting a feel for the offense, which is great. But there is nothing like game reps, and you don’t really know what you have until you get them in a game. That’s been hard for them. Maybe once we get going in the spring we’ll try to figure out how to address that issue, but right now we’re just focused on this [Big Ten championship] game.”
Obviously the Buckeyes have plenty on their plates right now, so diving into a hypothetical spring battle or entertaining the idea that perhaps the program might add a veteran presence at the position through the transfer portal isn’t going to occupy much thought for Day. And truthfully, even though it’s the most important spot on the roster, Ohio State has already found out several times over that there’s nothing to worry about as long as Day is around to lead the way.
Only one guy can play at a time, of course, so Ohio State has not been immune to the musical-chairs routine that happens so frequently when a handful of elite quarterbacks sign in the same place. It would certainly be hard to imagine Stroud, Miller, McCord or five-star commit Quinn Ewers all finishing their careers in Columbus, which adds even more intrigue to what’s looming next spring. But that list of top-shelf talents is also a reminder that those spots will be highly coveted if they happen to open up again, because there is clearly a line forming to learn from Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis even if a starting job isn’t claimed right away.
In some ways, this pandemic-challenged season has leveled the playing field a bit for McCord ahead of his arrival at Ohio State. Neither Stroud nor Miller got the freshman experience they were expecting after spring ball was cancelled, training camp was shuffled around and the abbreviated schedule left them with almost no live reps. That means all three of them will be relatively inexperienced, even if the two guys already on campus do have something of a head start.
On the flip side: Justin Fields wasn’t exactly the most experienced quarterback around when Day got his hands on him last year either.
“We’re going to have to figure out if Justin goes to the NFL who the next quarterback is at Ohio State, and that’s a big, big deal,” Day said. “I know [McCord] is looking forward to getting in here and getting to work right away.
“Kyle, right from the jump, is somebody that we recognized early as very, very talented. We had an opportunity to watch him play and thought he had a chance to be a really good player. I know he’s excited about getting here early on and competing the minute he walks in the door. … .. That is going to happen — he will compete for the job.”
Right now, that gig still belongs to Justin Fields for a program that’s about to compete for a fourth-consecutive Big Ten title, so that competition is going to have to wait.
But one way or another, the battles are going to be heated for a long time to come as the nation’s best quarterbacks keep flocking to Ohio State.