As we work our way through the final non-football week (hopefully) of 2020, I am continuing my series of columns focusing on the things that I am excited about seeing on the field from the Ohio State Buckeyes this fall. When it comes to talking about the most exciting players on Ryan Day’s roster this year, there is only one place that the conversation can start, and that’s with the quarterback, Justin Fields.
The statuesque, 6-foot-3 signal-caller has been exciting football fans far longer than he has been a Buckeye. As the No. 2 player in the 2018 recruiting class, the expectations have always been high for Fields, but the ceiling was really set when he transferred from the University of Georgia to Ohio State following his freshman campaign.
In his first year in Columbus, Fields became a Heisman finalist, won the Big Ten’s QB and Offensive Player of the Year awards, was a second-team All-American, and became the first quarterback in B1G history to throw for 40 touchdowns while rushing for 10 in the same season, all while guiding his team to their third-straight conference title and the College Football Playoff.
By nearly every individual metric, Fields had one of the best seasons by a QB in all of Ohio State history, but I am here to tell you, friends, I think 2019 was just the beginning.
As Fields and his coaches and teammates prepare for what will be the most unusual season of football that any of them have ever participated in, Fields confirmed on Tuesday, that his goals remain the same as they were before the pandemic struck.
In a conference call with media, the QB said, “I want to be the best quarterback in college football. I want to be the best quarterback I can be.”
Now hear me out, I firmly believe that in Fields’ pursuit of the goal in his second sentence, that he will surpass even the mark mentioned in his first. I believe that, should the Buckeyes play through the entire schedule as it is currently formulated, Justin Fields will end his collegiate career as the best quarterback in Ohio State history.
With all due respect to the likes of Les Horvath, Cornelius Greene, Mike Tomczak, Rex Kern, Bobby Hoying, and Art Schlichter when it comes to all-around greatness, Fields is competing with five more recent greats: Terrelle Pryor, Dwayne Haskins, Braxton Miller, Troy Smith and J.T. Barrett.
The highlights and accomplishments of these four legends are as memorable as they are remarkable: from Haskins record-shattering 2018 season to the gazelle-like strides of Pryor; from Miller’s iconic spin against VaTech and the juke hear ‘round the world against Penn State to the nearly perfect, Heisman-winning season for Smith in 2005, not to mention the unmatched leadership of Barrett, there is nothing that will ever diminish the accomplishments of these Buckeyes, but come season’s end, I think that we will have a new leader in the proverbial clubhouse in the race to be OSU’s QB1.
Fields has an uncanny mix of talents that we’ve only previously seen possessed individually; while they might not be the absolute extreme versions that we’ve seen in isolation in these previous QBs, they’re pretty darn close, despite all being in one guy. His efficiency rivals that of even Smith; while he doesn’t yet have the same deep-ball, Fields’ arm-strength — especially to the hashes — is reminiscent of Haskins’; and, even though we’ve only seen it in small doses due to a lack of quality backups, he has the potential to be nearly as devastating in the running game as Miller and Pryor were before him. And should he prove in 2020 that he possesses anything approaching the leadership and heart that Barrett displayed while leading the program, this could be a really exciting season.
When you combine his other-worldly skillset with the impressive collection of talent that he will be playing with this season, you have a recipe for something truly special. With Wyatt Davis, Thayer Munford, Harry Miller, Josh Myers, and Nicholas Petit-Frere in front of him, Fields will have the benefit of playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the country, allowing him both time in the pocket to find his open receivers (more on them in a second) and ample blocking to open up holes when he keeps the ball.
Fields will also be gifted with one of the most dynamic wide receiving corps in the history of Ohio State football. Though the group is a bit lacking in experience, they will rotate through an insane amount of talent led by Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jameson Williams, with freshmen Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr., and Mookie Cooper looking to make an immediate impact. Also, don’t count out returning WRs Ellijah Gardiner, Jaylen Harris, Kamryn Babb and Demario McCall (#FreeDemario) who could challenge for targets as well.
And, despite the fact that we have been hearing this refrain from Ohio State coaches since the days of Ricky Dudley, don’t be surprised if the tight ends — specifically Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert — see the ball more than they have in recent years. This embarrassment of pass-catching riches should provide Fields with more than enough opportunities to pad his stats and highlight reel, despite the abbreviated schedule.
Though the regular season has been cut by a quarter (and not to give away my season predictions, which will come out next week), I think that there is a chance that Fields’ numbers could live up to, if not even surpass, what he put up in 2019.
Though his 3,273 yards, 51 total touchdowns, and just three interceptions are unbelievably impressive, keep in mind that Fields rarely played past the middle of the third quarter last season, as the games were almost always in hand by halftime. While I don’t anticipate OSU’s dominance changing all that much this season, what I do think could be different is how long Day chooses to leave his starters in the game.
With four fewer games and starting the season a month to two later than many other teams, the margin for error is incredibly slim for the Buckeyes this fall. There is likely no opportunity for them to drop a game and still climb back into the playoff race (although chaos has been the rule of the day so far, so who knows). They also must make up for the fact that they will be playing two or three fewer games than many of the other teams vying for a CFP berth.
So, it is within the realm of possibilities that Fields ends up seeing far more of the third quarter this year than he did in 2019, and if that’s the case, maybe he gets one extra TD per game, which would put him right in the ballpark of where he was last season.
Of course, statistical achievement is only part of the discussion when talking about G.O.A.T. status. For Fields to unquestionably become the best quarterback in Ohio State history, he must end the season being handed the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy with scarlet and gray confetti still falling all around him. Current national championship odds from BetOnline.ag have the Buckeyes tied with Alabama for the second best shot to win the title at 3/1. Unsurprisingly, Clemson is in first at 9/4.
In the press availability on Tuesday, Fields said that the way that OSU lost to the Tigers in Fiesta Bowl has been a hugely motivating factor as they prepare to run it back in 2020. If Fields is able to avenge that loss — either by directly beating Clemson or finishing the chase with a title — it will be hard to consider him anything but Ohio State’s best of all time.
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!