Ohio State will in all likelihood have a freshman quarterback next season.
While relaxed transfer rules make bringing in a veteran who could play right away much easier than it used to be, all indications are coach Ryan Day is set to choose from a group consisting of redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller III or true freshman Kyle McCord.
Does that mean the Buckeyes have to dial back expectations for 2021? Not necessarily.
History and recent trends both indicate all of the usual goals for Day’s team should still be on the table, but expect him to spend the offseason worrying about it nonetheless.
“Any time you are playing with quarterbacks who haven’t played, your comfort level is not real high,” Day said in December. “I can promise you that.”
Whoever wins the job, he will not be treading an entirely new path.
Four times in the past, Ohio State has had a first-year player at the helm for all or most of a season.
Half of those seasons ended in disappointment, but the other two yielded Big Ten titles. The most recent also ended with the Buckeyes winning it all, but there is far more to that story.
“It will be anxious,” Day said in anticipation of his next quarterback competition. “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.”
That’s the direction Woody Hayes went in 1978 when he replaced senior starter Rod Gerald with Art Schlichter, a hotshot recruit from Washington Court House Miami Trace.
Thirty years later, Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Pa., became the second freshman starting quarterback at Ohio State, and Wayne High School graduate Braxton Miller became No. 3 in 2011.
While Schlichter, Pryor and Miller were all true freshmen, the most recent first-year player to start was J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman in 2014.
That was not the only thing that made that season an outlier.
While Barrett put up historic numbers, he also wasn’t able to finish the season.
After taking over for an injured Miller, Barrett piled up 3,772 total yards (then a school record) and 45 total touchdowns in 12 games. He suffered a broken leg in the Michigan game, though, leaving the offense in the hands of Cardale Jones. A strong-armed junior, Jones helped steer the Buckeyes to upset wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon and the first College Football Playoff National Championship.
Add them all up and Ohio State’s four freshmen starting quarterbacks have some significant accomplishments — three Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, two Big Ten titles and three wins over Michigan, just to name a few — while also enduring some hard knocks.
Schlichter threw a school record five interceptions in his debut, a 19-0 loss to Penn State, and Barrett threw three interceptions in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech.
Pryor lost a fumble and threw an interception in the fourth quarter of a 13-6 loss at home to Penn State while Miller overthrew DeVier Posey on a potential game-winning touchdown at Michigan then was picked off to end the 40-34 loss in Ann Arbor.
Whoever does with the job should have a strong supporting cast thanks to the return of leading receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, tight end Jeremy Ruckert and tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, but that’s not the only factor working his the next starter’s favor.
Today’s quarterbacks generally arrive much farther along in the developmental process compared to generations past.
While graduating early and enrolling in January to go through spring practice used to be considered getting a head start, it’s become practically the norm.
Quarterbacks, who have to learn not only their role in the offense but what everyone else is doing benefit the most from that trend.
The proliferation of passing offenses at all levels of football also means there are more arms and minds being sharpened than ever before, and the rise of the seven-on-seven summer circuit provides yet another opportunity for players to build up experience reading defenses and delivering passes.
Still, those experiences are no substitute for game action, and none of Ohio State’s QB competitors have thrown a pass at the college level.
“(Stroud and Miller) got a couple reps here and there, but they haven’t actually played,” Day said. “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.”
They have a headstart on McCord in terms of learning the offense, but not as much as usual thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
That forced many learning sessions online last year and reduced opportunities for reps in both practices and games.
“I know Kyle is looking forward to getting in here and getting to work right away,” Day said.
“Right from the jump he is somebody 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.”