COLUMBUS – After last Saturday’s Ohio State spring football game coach Ryan Day said his biggest concern going into the season was OSU’s offensive line, which will have four new starters.
After back-up quarterback Matthew Baldwin’s decision to enter the transfer portal that might change because it leaves OSU with a large hole in its quarterback plans. Or it might not.
Day’s concern about the offensive line could actually be multiplied with the knowledge that as of today that line is all that stands between starter Justin Fields and 11 defensive guys intent on doing him harm and the people standing behind him on the quarterbacks depth chart are, to put it politely, largely untested.
While few people believed there was a close competition between Fields and Baldwin for the starting job, Fields is now the undoubted No. 1 QB for Ohio State.
Behind him, it is Chris Chugunov, a graduate transfer last season from West Virginia, and Danny Vanatsky, a preferred walk-on from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.
The first reaction of many people to this is that Ohio State has never had less depth at quarterback than it does today, but that ignores the fact Steve Bellisari started for almost three seasons.
Even in those days from 1999-2001 when Bellisari completed only 50 percent of his passes and had just five more touchdown passes than interceptions in his career, there was more depth, though, with Scott McMullen and Craig Krenzel backing up the often erratic left-hander.
Ohio State has somewhat of a history of depth at quarterback recently.
It won a national championship with its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, in 2014. Earlier that year, J.T. Barrett went from unknown quantity to being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate before an injury in the Michigan game ended his season.
Kenny Guiton became a local hero when he came off the bench to pull out an overtime victory against Purdue in 2012 after Braxton Miller was taken to the hospital.
Troy Smith was in his third season at Ohio State when an injury to Justin Zwick opened the door for him to become the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback.
There was no such thing as a graduate transfer or a transfer portal or easily granted hardship transfers in those days, so Zwick stayed at Ohio State two more seasons after losing the starting job to Smith during the 2004 season.
But it is a different world in 2019 with players able to move around much more freely and the NCAA handing out hardship transfers like it’s Halloween and candy was half price at the neighborhood super store.
If a player sees he’s not going to play where he is or wants to get closer to home, as some say Baldwin did, he can explore transferring. Players willing to spend several seasons, maybe their whole career as back-ups have become more rare. Players have more power than ever before.
So, how does this affect Ohio State?
Immediately, it could mean adding another quarterback from the crop of available graduate transfers.
But it is not a particularly interesting group.
Some of the graduate transfer quarterbacks looking for a new home are Texas Tech’s Colt Garrett, USC’s Matt Fink and Penn State’s Tommy Stevens.
Garrett is walk-on who has thrown one touchdown pass in three seasons and Fink also has one career TD pass. Stevens decided to leave Penn State after coach James Franklin would not commit to him as the starting quarterback this season, so it is obvious he has no interest in being a back-up.
Another way Baldwin’s transfer could change Ohio State is that it might be forced to use the quarterback as a runner less than it planned.
Fields does not have the exceptional arm talent of last year’s record-setting quarterback Dwayne Haskins but he is a much better runner. But Ohio State can’t afford to have him out of the lineup because of an injury.
Finally, it might affect recruiting. Ohio State has a verbal commitment from Jack Miller, 4-star quarterback from Scottsdale, Ariz., in its 2020 recruiting class. If the Buckeyes would recruit another quarterback, it’s possible Miller could decide to reconsider his commitment.
Ohio State has been a winner and a loser in the transfer portal in the last year.
A year ago OSU had depth at quarterback. But last spring when Joe Burrow lost the competition to be the starter to Dwayne Haskins he did a graduate transfer.
When rumors of Fields transferring to Ohio State began to circulate in December, 4-star quarterback recruit Dwan Mathis, who had long been committed to the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class, flipped to Georgia.
Two weeks after Fields’ transfer last year’s back-up Tate Martell transferred to Miami. And now Baldwin is leaving.
Ohio State can only hope Fields is as good as Martel and Mathis and Baldwin think he is.