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Ohio State title hopes hinge on big bet with new quarterbacks

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields still has work to do before leading the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State title hopes hinge on big bet with new quarterbacks

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 the revamped quarterback position for the Buckeyes this season? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The quarterbacks are inexperienced. The depth chart has been completely revamped, so there’s plenty of uncertainty there for Ohio State. And it’s true that an injury at the top could test what is probably the unit with the smallest margin for error.

Certainly by comparison to the other positions on a roster that is loaded with talent, experience and flexibility, the quarterbacks probably do represent the biggest question mark for the Buckeyes. But with the highest-rated recruit in school history set to become the starter, it’s hard to truly consider that a weakness for the program given the enormous potential.

Now, Justin Fields still has to make that big bet on his upside pay off this season. The decorated transfer from Georgia has some work ahead of him after experiencing some understandable growing pains during a spring camp where he was getting a crash course in the offense, and he probably still won’t be a finished product after training camp. But given the option of pursuing Fields even knowing that it would cost the program both Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin, the Buckeyes still would have made that trade every time.

Justin Fields-Matthew Baldwin-Buckeyes-Ohio State football-Ohio State

Ohio State lost Matthew Baldwin (left) to transfer after a spring competing with Justin Fields. (Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

Picking up an athlete with the kind of transcendent athleticism that Fields possesses is how teams break through to the next level. In the short term, it would have been hard to imagine a quarterback with Martell’s limitations as a passer turning Ohio State into a national-title contender. And while Ryan Day absolutely would have preferred to keep developing Baldwin for the long run as the eventual successor for Fields, he made a choice that represented the best opportunity for Ohio State to win now — and made an educated guess that he could continue to land top-flight passers either on the recruiting trail or in the transfer portal.

The early indicators suggest Day will be correct in that belief based on the pair of commitments he already has secured and the way he was able to quickly bring Gunnar Hoak in from Kentucky to be the likely backup for Fields for the next two seasons. Hoak didn’t have the same kind of credentials as Fields during the recruiting process, and Ohio State wasn’t really involved with him coming out of high school. But Hoak has the kind of arm talent, maturity and intelligence that can make for an ideal option off the bench.

Ohio State may not have had an abundance of options when it went back to the marketplace. But it wouldn’t have gone after Hoak if it didn’t believe he could win games should it need him, just like it wouldn’t have so aggressively courted Fields if it didn’t view him as a difference-maker.

Both of those quarterbacks still have to go prove it on the practice field in August, and the results when the season starts will then provide the real answer about the strength of the position. Right now it’s fair to be a little skeptical about Ohio State at the most important spot on the field, but there also might not be another unit with a higher ceiling than what Justin Fields provides.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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