COLUMBUS — Justin Fields was everything Ohio State wanted him to be last season.
In his first year as a starting college quarterback, Fields dazzled with his playmaking ability on his way to an undefeated regular season, a seat at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City and a College Football Playoff berth, where he almost led the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind win.
Can it get any better for the rising junior? Fields will be the first quarterback in Ryan Day’s coaching career to return for a second season as a starter. So, yes, it could get better.
“I’m proud of his development from where he was at this point last year to where he is right now in Practice One,” Day said. “He’s come a long way in the pocket, moving in the pocket, seeing things and drop-back protection. We have a list of things that he’s working on to get better at.
“But a lot of it is just learning to play the position in terms of this past season — as time went along he got more and more responsibility and it’s now kind of Year Two. So now we spent a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the position — protections, route progressions, coverages — things like that where we can get a little more involved and start to explain the playbook a little more.”
Fields has a chance to make this season the third straight trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony for Ohio State quarterbacks.
But the trophy might be coming back to Columbus with him if everything goes as planned. He’s there. The playmakers around him are there. The offensive line returns three starters and replaces the two missing with a pair of blue-chip linemen. And he has an incredibly accomplished offensive coaching staff pulling the strings, starting with Day.
He is a special talent with at least one more season to improve before heading off to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. All of those things can come together for a special season for Fields and Ohio State.
But what does that season look like?
Fields had 3,273 yards passing last season without a 1,000-yard receiver. He could easily have at least one of those this season, and he could even have two if Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both continue to improve as go-to weapons. From there, Fields will have to count on receivers such as Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott and Mookie Cooper, the talented freshmen quartet, to step in and make an instant impact.
Ohio State will have a deep room of talented tight ends who can help in the passing game and provide veteran presences on the field for a young offense. The Buckeyes may also take a committee-approach to the running back room, meaning fresh legs on the field to help run the ball, something that opened up the pass for Fields a a season ago. Trey Sermon is a capable back who will likely top 1,000 yards on the ground and be a safety valve on passing downs — so long as he’s healthy for the entire season, as expected.
Without a 2,000-yard rusher last season, maybe Fields pushed Joe Burrow harder for the Heisman Trophy. But this year, it will be Fields’ offense, meaning it might be his award to lose.
Justin Fields statistical projection
279 of 391 passing, 3,989 passing yards, 54 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
- 71 percent passing
- 14.2 yards per completion
- 151 rushing attempts
- 558 yards
- nine touchdowns
That will be a new school record for most touchdowns ever in an Ohio State season. And that should be enough to earn a trip to New York, be a favorite for the Heisman Trophy and have another crack at winning a national title.