Well hey, college football is all about the unexpected, right? For good and for bad, the sport is designed around chaos, and earlier this evening, Ohio State was hit with a curveball. It was reported that Matthew Baldwin, the presumed back-up quarterback for Justin Fields — and heir apparent to the throne in two years — will enter the NCAA transfer portal. No matter how much Ohio State planned or hedged this offseason, I can’t imagine there was a contingency plan for losing Tate Martell, incoming recruit Dwan Mathis, and Matthew Baldwin before we hit May.
Because there was no way to foresee that much turnover (unless Ryan Day is some sort of wizard), Ohio State may have to do some quick scrambling now to find a backup quarterback not named Chuganov that’ll be eligible to play this upcoming season, in case Justin Fields is to suffer any sort of significant injury. Seeing how it is now mid-April, and not early January, the search for a transfer quarterback is a bit tricky, because most targets have already picked their future schools.
That doesn’t mean that Ohio State is completely without options, however. There are still some talented quarterbacks available on the market, and with the recent rulings regarding hardship waivers, it may not be very difficult for the Buckeyes to get someone that isn’t a grad-transfer eligible to play this season. Who might be on the Buckeye shortlist?
Connor Neville, Washington State
Alright, so I know I said there are talented quarterbacks available, and leading with Neville may not back that up, but he’s decent, I promise. The former three-star recruit announced that he’d be leaving Washington State last month, citing Mike Leach’s recent additions of several grad transfers and recruits pushing him out of the fray at quarterback in Pullman. Because of that, Neville is eligible for a “run-out” waiver, which Washington State has agreed to sign, making him eligible immediately. Last week, Neville committed to play at Eastern Mississippi Community College, but letters of intent to junior colleges have no bearing on NCAA eligibility.
Now since we know that he’s eligible, that answers one question. Question two: is he any good? Well, there’s not a ton to go on. He was extremely impressive in high school back in the class of 2017, racking up solid numbers and garnering a high three-star rating, but he didn’t see the field in his first two seasons at Washington State. What we know right now is that he has a pretty good arm, and understands the air raid, both of which would be a plus for Ryan Day.
What we don’t know — and what would certainly be the biggest hang up here — is how willing he’d be to sit on the bench for two years behind Fields. That’s a big ask of any player, and it’ll be the key for whomever Ohio State tries to bring in. If he is willing to sit behind Fields for a couple years, he could be the choice for the Buckeyes.
Tommy Stevens, Penn State
A recent transfer announcer, Tommy Stevens made it known just a day ago that he’d be playing his final year elsewhere. The good news with Stevens is that he’s eligible immediately as a grad transfer, and we know that he’d be at least a capable backup, thanks to his athleticism and intelligence in a spread offense.
What we don’t know, and what is again the biggest question, is if he’d be willing to back up Justin Fields. That seems pretty unlikely, given that he left Penn State because he didn’t think he’d start over the younger Sean Clifford, but I would imagine he still gets a call from Day and company.
Keondre Wudtee, Oklahoma State
Unlike the first two names on this list, I think the biggest question with Wudtee isn’t related to playing time, as much as it is eligibility. Wudtee is, as it stands, not eligible this season, because he’s yet to graduate, and he has no run-off waiver.
However, there is a possibility that because his position coach Mike Yurcich (now at Ohio State) departed this off-season that he could argue that as a hardship. Would it get through? It’s pretty much impossible to predict, but Wudtee is as talented as anyone else on this list, and would probably be pretty happy to play for his former coach again.
In January, he announced that he would be leaving Stillwater in part because “the matriarch of my family was diagnosed with a medical situation that is of great concern to me.”
Wudtee is a Louisiana native, so he could argue for a hardship waiver if ended up transferring closer to home, but Columbus likely wouldn’t fit the bill.
McLane Carter, Texas Tech
Another grad transfer option with questions about willingness to spend his final year on the bench, Carter would be an excellent fit for this offense, and may be the best option on the board if he’s interested. He was solid for Texas Tech last season before suffering an injury and losing his job to Alan Bowman, and would likely be at least as good as Baldwin would’ve been as a backup for Fields.
This one would take quite a bit of work for Day, but if he wants a high quality backup, Carter may be number one on the call list.
Now, if Ohio State doesn’t like any of the grad transfer options (understandable), there is a decent chance that they look towards the FCS for an answer behind Fields. Plenty of schools (most notably Oregon with Vernon Adams and Washington State with Gage Gubrud) have gone this route, because FCS players are immediately eligible if they move up to FBS. That gives Ohio State a much larger market of options, and a group that would likely have more players willing to sit on the bench for the chance to play at a larger school.
If Ohio State is just looking for the best of the bunch, Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams, Montana State’s Chris Murray, Campbell’s Daniel Smith, and Jacksonville State’s Zerrick Cooper could all be Buckeye caliber players, at least in the back-up spot.
Obviously pulling a player from that level up to Ohio State just four and half months before the season starts isn’t ideal, but in a spot like this, that might be the best move for Day and his staff. The Buckeyes could also look to a JuCo or Prep School, but that feels pretty highly unlikely.