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Are transfers reason for concern, or simply the new normal?

Transfer SZN is in full force. OSU football fans can choose to worry, but it is better to just accept the new reality of college sports.

The Ewers Experiment was fun while it lasted, but this is the new reality of college football. Relax Buckeye fans, we’re going to be fine.
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Transfer SZN is officially upon us in college football. While transfer decisions are made throughout the year, the days immediately following the end of the regular season have turned into professional-level free agency. By the Wednesday after Rivalry Week, over 100 new players had entered their names into the NCAA transfer portal. That was just the beginning. Dozens more have followed suit, and now their recruitment begins all over again. Not only are players looking for a good fit and potential playing time, but there is also money involved via NIL opportunities. See why I called it free agency?

This is nothing new for college football, or college sports for that matter, but it has been further amped up by introduction of the one-time transfer rule. Players now have at least one opportunity to change schools with no penalty and no forced year off. So if there are potential financial incentives to leave, and players can pick their own destination without being forced to sit for a year… why wouldn’t every non-star player take advantage of this?

Well, it’s not always that easy or convenient. Young athletes grow up rooting for certain teams. Some are influenced by geography or family situations. Many times they just want to play their chosen sport, get a free or reduced education, and try to set up a future career for themselves. That’s not going to change. When a student athlete chooses their first school, they hope it is the right one — and the last one.

But we all know the reality of college sports. At the NCAA level, it is a business first. Now athletes are finally being given freedom to make business decisions, and this is the result. While I appreciate the fact that athletes now have greater decision-making power, I’m not sure I like where this whole thing is going. I’m a traditionalist, but that is a different topic for a different day.

So how does this pertain to Ohio State football? Am I just going to stand on my soapbox and tell you what I do and do not love about college sports in general? No, I’m not. This is LGHL, after all. OSU has had three players enter the transfer portal since their loss to TTUN: QB Jack Miller, QB Quinn Ewers, and LB/Hybrid Craig Young. They join linebackers Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope as former top recruits who have all made the decision to leave the program since mid-September. There will likely be more names to come. Should there be reason for concern at Ohio State, or is this just the new normal?

Let’s all give Ryan Day and his staff some credit. Things are pretty darn good in Columbus, so no reason to panic.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

I lean to the side of zero concern, but I do think it worth pointing out that all of these players come from exactly two position groups. Miller and Ewers, while in different stages of their career, both saw an overcrowded quarterback room and limited opportunity. That is not the coaching staff’s fault, but it is something that should be taken into account in the future. Miller needed a fresh start, and we as fans should wish him the best. Same for Ewers, although his presence may have caused a bit of this QB chaos.

Ewers’ early enrollment seems to have benefitted himself, and only himself. I don’t blame Ewers for cashing in (literally), but it now seems as if he was always half-in. He basically used Ohio State for a gap year: travel, find a summer (fall) job, enjoy new friends, and learn a few things to use in the future. You could say OSU was planning to “use” him as well, but I genuinely believe that Ryan Day and his staff are good dudes, intent on building relationships and developing players — not only on the football field, but also as men.

Maybe that makes me naïve. Regardless, the OSU quarterback room is in a bit of flux. The good news is, this team has a Heisman finalist coming back next year. Losing a potentially generational talent certainly hurts, but the Buckeyes will be fine there.

At linebacker, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope, and eventually Craig Young all became frustrated veterans, and did so for good reason. They were passed on the depth chart by younger players and/or failed to see the field during what could have been their breakout season(s). Now they are all looking for new, unfamiliar homes. Did Ohio State miss on talent? Or did the staff fail to develop these players?

Surely high-level recruits should be able to work themselves onto the field, but I also believe that some blame should fall at the feet of Al Washington in this case. Gant and Pope never developed into stars. Young never got a chance. The same could be said for the core of linebackers that roamed the field for the Buckeyes during previous seasons. Linebacker has always been a weak spot for OSU under Washington (in his defense, it wasn’t great under his predecessor). It is one thing for guys to leave in search of playing time. It is another for them to leave because they aren’t even given the opportunity to help a struggling unit. That is reason for some level of concern.

All of that being said, and despite the turnover at quarterback and linebacker, the Ohio State brand and football team is just as strong as ever. There is no reason for major concern. Players will continue to come and go, but OSU will continue to recruit at a high level as well.

Devin Brown will take the roster spot of Ewers and develop under QB guru Ryan Day. C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers will enter the linebacker room with higher ceilings than any of the guys they are replacing. There might be more turnover than normal, but in recent years, OSU has benefitted from the portal more than it has been hurt by it (see: Justin Fields, Jonah Jackson, Trey Sermon, etc.). I don’t expect that to change.

Jameson Williams is more exception than rule, but the Buckeyes have the best receiver room in the country. His presence would have done nothing to stop TTUN’s running game. That was a mutually beneficial breakup.

This is just how college football is going to play out. The transfer portal makes things more interesting and provides increased parity. Sure, coaches might have more awkward conversations — they’re paid handsomely to do so. Players may end up making the wrong decisions but that’s the risk they take, and at least they are now free to do so. At the end of the day, it levels out the playing field just a bit.

As long as Ohio State recruits at a high level and retains/hires the right staff, a few players leaving the program will only be a proverbial drop in the bucket.