You need a lot of things to win a college football title. You’re going to need elite recruits. Great coaching. A championship culture. Excellent assistant coaches.
And lots and lots of luck.
Both Ohio State championship teams in recent memory were loaded with talent and great coaches, but they were also lucky. There’s no shame in that, and it doesn’t make them less talented, or make the championships count any less.
Holy Buckeye? That involved some luck. Winning five other games by less than a touchdown, then upsetting Miami in double overtime? Involves a little bit of luck. Making the first ever College Football Playoff in part because the other two teams competing for that last spot didn’t play anybody out of conference, so your bad loss to Virginia Tech doesn’t look as bad? That’s a bit of luck.
It isn’t just Ohio State, of course. Alabama has been amazing, but undoubtedly benefited from some schedule quirks in their run as a playoff mainstay. Clemson has certainly benefited from almost the entire ACC declining at once. Everybody needs some injury luck. The beat goes on.
It isn’t just about luck, of course. There’s a reason San Jose State hasn’t won a title yet. You need all those other things to help mitigate your reliance on luck. If your entire roster is full of elite recruits, you’ve got a better chance at surviving a rash of injuries than if you have to dip into undersized walk-ons. Your players are more likely to develop quickly under elite coaches than lesser ones. If you don’t schedule three Patriot League teams out of conference, you’re less reliant on what other teams do for your playoff chances. The list goes on.
But no doubt about it. Luck is still part of the equation. And this year’s Ohio State team, a squad that new coach, new quarterback and all, still has reasonable championship aspirations, is going to need some luck. Especially now that their quarterback room is especially barren.
In a vacuum, while you don’t want to lose a player like Matthew Baldwin (he’s good!), his departure wouldn’t be catastrophic for a program like Ohio State. Baldwin, a Texas native, reportedly would like to be somewhere a little closer to home.
That’s perfectly understandable, tons of college students make that decision (including yours truly, once upon a time), but even if Baldwin had decided he just wanted to go somewhere where he could start, didn’t like Ohio State’s colors, thought our BBQ sucked, whatever, that’d be fine too.
But Baldwin isn’t the only Buckeye quarterback to decide he’d like to play somewhere else. After all, top 2019 QB recruit Dwan Mathis flipped right before signing day, and wasn’t replaced by a high schooler. Dwayne Haskins left early for the NFL Draft. Then Tate Martell left for Miami. Oh, and Ohio State’s first 2018 QB recruit? Another blue-chipper? That was Emory Jones, and he also flipped late in the process. He’s at Florida.
Ohio State, of course, added a transfer of their own in former mega-recruit Justin Fields. He’s going to be your starting quarterback. But now Ohio State has exactly zero scholarship quarterbacks who originally committed to Ohio State. And they only have two scholarship quarterbacks, period.
The other is former West Virginia transfer Chris Chugunov. And no disrespect to Chugunov, who may very well end up a high quality player, but he was a low three-star recruit, who after three years at West Virginia, has a sub 50% completion percentage and under 100 career passing attempts.
Ohio State reportedly will look for a grad transfer to take Baldwin’s place. Seeing as it’s already late April, that’s going to be hard to do, but maybe not impossible. But Ohio State’s chances of getting somebody with a resume or profile substantially more impressive than Chugunov’s, that also has 2019 eligibility, don’t seem great.
It’s possible this won’t matter. Fields could start, be excellent, and stay healthy. The Buckeyes have a high four-star 2020 QB committed (Jack Miller), and if all goes according to plan, Fields could give way to Miller, while the Buckeyes further fortify the QB room, and everything is fine. That’s entirely possible.
But that would require luck.
Especially since Fields is the kind of player that’s probably going to take a few hits, and double especially since Ohio State’s offensive line is not especially deep at the moment either.
Hopefully, this is the worst the depth situation at QB looks for Ohio State under Ryan Day, but on some level, this will probably always be a concern. After all, you can only play one quarterback, and right now, NCAA policy is about as transfer-friendly as it’s been in decades. Maybe you can sell some quality QBs on the virtue of staying patient, even if they don’t win the starting job. Maybe you can develop some under-the-radar guys enough that they grow into championship quality QBs. Maybe folks just stay healthy and don’t ever get homesick.
Assembling and maintaining that balance? That sure takes a lot of skill. But also a little luck.
There’s plenty to like about this Ohio State football team, in my humble opinion, glaring QB depth issues aside. Whoever is taking snaps is going to have a loaded and experienced skill position corps, from wideout to H-back to tight end to running back, to work with. Ohio State’s defense could only improve from last year, with a talent reinforcement and extra experience. There’s no P5 program out of conference, and while there are tricky Big Ten games, many of the more established programs, like Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan, have question marks of their own.
The Buckeyes think they have the coaches they need to make a run. They’ve certainly got the athletes.
But they’ll need some luck too. And it sure would help if that good luck started now.