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What If: Where would the program stand if Justin Fields hadn’t transferred to Ohio State?

Had Justin Fields not decided to come to Columbus, Buckeye fans would likely have seen a lot of Tathan over the last two seasons.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

All this week, LGHL writers will be bring you articles with inspired by their favorite Ohio State theoretical questions. Check out all of our What If? thoughts throughout the week HERE. Whether you disagree, let us know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Landgrant33.

Justin Fields will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history, even though he was only in Columbus for two seasons. During his time with the Buckeyes, not only did Fields lead Ohio State to two College Football Playoff appearances, he also threw for over 5,000 yards and 63 touchdowns. Ohio State couldn’t have asked for a better replacement for Dwayne Haskins, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2018.

A frightening question to ask is what would the last two years of Ohio State football look like if Fields had decided to stay at Georgia, or transfer to another program? There are a number of key members of the Ohio State football program that would have likely seen their careers look drastically different the last two seasons if someone other than Justin Fields was taking the snaps for the Buckeyes.


Ryan Day

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Prior to Fields announcing he was transferring to Ohio State, Urban Meyer announced he would be retiring after the Rose Bowl, leaving Ryan Day to become the new head coach of the Buckeyes. Bringing Fields into the fold to take over for a departed Dwayne Haskins at quarterback certainly made Day’s first two seasons on the job in Columbus a lot easier.

Had Day had to roll with either Tate Martell or another transfer quarterback, like Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, there might not be as much love for Day as he gets ready for his third season as head coach in Columbus. While Day might have been able to turn Tate Martell into a serviceable quarterback, the production wouldn’t have been anywhere close to the type of production that we saw in the two seasons with Fields as quarterback of the Buckeyes.

Currently Ryan Day hasn’t lost a regular season game as Ohio State’s head coach. I’m not as optimistic that would be the case if Ohio State had somebody else taking the snaps over the last two years. Ohio State had a lot of talent on the field at other positions in 2019 and 2020, but they were able to play more relaxed since Fields was so good. With Martell or anyone else at quarterback, you might see others playing a lot tighter since they might find themselves with as much margin for error.


Recruiting

Another area that would have likely been affected for Ohio State is recruiting. Ohio State is a marquee name, but are they getting Quinn Ewers and so many other top wide receivers without seeing what Day could do with Justin Fields as quarterback? Martell struck me as more of a running quarterback, which might not have played as well with the top wide receivers that Brian Hartline and Ohio State have been able to lure to Columbus.

Not saying that Day wouldn’t have been able to get a verbal commitment from Quinn Ewers had he not been able to showcase his offense with a quarterback like Justin Fields running it. Day would have probably had more of an uphill battle in trying to earn the commitment of Ewers, especially with Steve Sarkisian taking over at Texas. While there’s some recruits who might be fine with being the next J.T. Barrett, I think Ewers would have higher aspirations.


Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson

Others who might have not had as big of an impact over the last few years are wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. It’s obvious that both wide receivers had a strong bond with Justin Fields, which is something they might not have had with another quarterback throwing passes to them. While Olave and Wilson are bout extremely talented, they might not be looked at as possible first round NFL Draft picks with another quarterback at the helm, and it’s possible that they might have explored the transfer portal if they found it in the best interest for their futures.


Tate Martell

Tulane v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It’s entirely possible that I’m looking at how Ohio State was thinking of using Martell the wrong way, but I saw him as a J.T. Barrett-type that Urban Meyer would want to run the football anywhere from 15-25 times per game and sprinkle in some throws. Maybe Ryan Day would have changed that philosophy and try to turn him into more of a Dwayne Haskins that threw the football 30-40 times a game. I still think a good portion of those designed throws might have turned into runs, as Martell would have tried to scramble and make plays with his legs as he felt pressure.

Either way, I don’t think the Tate Martell experience would have turned out nearly as successful as what Ohio State saw from Justin Fields. All you need to do is look at what happened when Fields announced he was transferring to Ohio State. Martell sent a tweet taking a passive-aggressive shot at Fields before entering the transfer portal just a few days later. Martell would go on to Miami when he threw one pass and carried the football seven times in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 and entering the transfer portal again.

It’s not that Martell isn’t talented, as he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, I’m just not convinced that Ohio State would have been the unstoppable force that we saw the last two seasons with Fields at quarterback. Maybe Ohio State would have brought in a different transfer to try and push Martell, but who knows if Martell would have felt just as threatened with another quarterback not named Justin Fields coming in.

I really feel like Ohio State dodged a bullet here, since there could have been a big mess for the Buckeyes the last two years had things not started well a Tate Martell/Ryan Day era. If anything, Ohio State has gotten even stronger since Ryan Day took over as head coach of the Buckeyes, which is something I don’t know if we would see if the keys to the offense were handed over to Martell with no real competition behind him.