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What If? You’re Nuts: What would have happened if Joe Burrow would have beaten out Dwayne Haskins in 2018?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: What would have happened if Joe Burrow would have beaten out Dwayne Haskins in 2018?

Jami’s Take:

The first “What if” is actually “What if Joe Burrow hadn’t broken his hand?”

That was really the moment Dwayne Haskins entered the picture. When Burrow broke a bone in his right hand during a practice rep, redshirt freshman Haskins became the Buckeyes’ backup quarterback by default.

Haskins seized the opportunity to show what he could do, and with that, he earned playing time in eight games while Burrow attempted only 11 passes in five games. It culminated during the Michigan game, when Haskins went in for starting quarterback J.T. Barrett after Barrett’s knee locked up. The Buckeyes were trailing. Haskins went 6-of-7 with 94 passing yards. The Buckeyes had three straight scoring drives and came back for the win.

It all but solidified Haskins’ role as starter the following season.

The second “What if” is “What if Joe Burrow had still been given the starting job at OSU in 2018?”

What I’m about to say might be controversial given how much talent we now know Burrow has. After losing out on the starting job, he transferred to LSU, where, in 2019, he won the Heisman and a National Championship.

But would Burrow have found the same success at OSU? I don’t necessarily think he would have. And though it’s always fun to speculate about Buckeye victories, I think there also would have been some longer-term ramifications that we’re only aware of in retrospect.

Let’s start with the 2018 season. Down at LSU, Burrow started all season, and while his performance was solid, Haskins’ stats seemed to indicate that OSU had made the right decision. But let’s talk in hypotheticals.

Had Burrow been the QB, I think the Buckeyes would have beat Purdue in that 2018 season. That game — their only loss that year — was a blowout of embarrassing proportions (OSU lost, 49-20, for those who have understandably wiped this game from their memory). Haskins threw a whopping 72 passes (Let that sink in - Seventy! Two! Passes!) But the run game really hurt the Buckeyes. They averaged just three yards a carry despite Purdue’s defense being ranked No. 81 in the country at the time.

With Burrow’s ability to run the football, it’s likely it would have been a different game against the Boilermakers. OSU was only down 14-3 at half (Purdue tacked on a last-minute touchdown with a pretty impressive fake FG play). But arguably with Burrow, OSU wouldn’t have been losing at all. He likely would have been able to keep Purdue unsteady early, which would have changed the entire momentum of the game.

But before you go telling me that the Buckeyes would have gone undefeated and made the playoffs, let’s not also forget how close the Maryland game was (OSU won, 52-51, in overtime).

That Maryland game was CLOSE and it went into overtime. Would Burrow have come away with the win? And more critically, would he have been able to pull it out against Michigan?

I’m not so sure.

The Buckeyes got lucky on the last play of the Maryland game, when the Terps went for the outright win by attempting a two-point conversion. They couldn’t connect despite having Jeshaun Jones completely open in the endzone.

There were some messy turnovers on the Buckeyes’ end, but there were also a lot of defensive misfires. That overtime score was OSU’s first lead of the game. It was a weird, crazy game that realistically, only ended in Buckeye victory because of Haskins. He was able to strike quickly during critical moments in a way that I doubt Burrow would have, at least at that point in his career.

And then, the question becomes — would the Buckeyes have beaten Michigan the following week?

Maybe, if they were coming off of a loss with something to prove. But it’s also possible that would have unnerved them enough to throw them off their game. Sure, OSU took down the Wolverines pretty handily, 62-39. But in large part, that was thanks again to Haskins. It’s not just that Haskins was better than Burrow in 2018 (Haskins finished the season having set several school records and finished third in Heisman voting). They also brought different things to the game, and though Burrow ultimately went off in 2019, I don’t know if the 2018 version of Burrow would have won that game.

I also don’t know whether Burrow would have had the season he did in 2019 were he not at LSU. Could he have gone off at OSU? Sure — he and J.K. Dobbins could have worked some magic. But the intangible need to prove something — to stick it to Haskins, or OSU, or whatever motivation Burrow could have been pulling from in 2019 — is a powerful drug, and I don’t know whether that same fire would have been there had he been the starter at OSU.

There’s also no chance Justin Fields would have transferred to Ohio State if Burrow had stayed, and so, if Joe Burrow had been given the starting job, and even if he had the same 2019 season at OSU that he did at LSU, Burrow heading to the NFL would have opened a whole other can of “What ifs” for the Buckeyes.

Matt’s Take:

This question has so many prongs that I’m going to try to take them one at a time. If Joe Burrow had won the Ohio State starting job in 2018 here’s how I think things would have worked out for various people, teams, and circumstances:

Dwayne Haskins

If Haskins had lost the starting job, I imagine that he very well might have transferred to the school he originally committed to: Maryland. While just a few short years ago, the transfer rules were a bit more stringent than they are now, but given that he would have been moving home, Tom Mars — or whatever other transfer waiver lawyer — could have crafted a document that would have allowed Haskins to play right away. Remember, Burrow had already graduated from Ohio State when he decided to transfer to LSU, so he didn’t have to deal with that circus.

2018 Ohio State Buckeyes

In terms of the basics, I agree with Jami that the 2018 season would have played out differently with Burrow behind center, instead of Simba, but ultimately, the issue with the Ohio State team that season wasn’t the quarterback, it was the defense. So, what game(s) might have been lost is likely immaterial, as the secondary and linebacking corps just wasn’t up to national championship levels. So, I imagine that they would have arrived at a similar place as they did in the main timeline.

Justin Fields

Now here is where things get interesting. After perhaps a Rose Bowl victory over Washington and a season in which he would have been asked to put up a ton of yards throwing, Burrow very well could have declared for the NFL Draft opening things up for Justin Fields to still find his way to Columbus. But I don’t think that is the likeliest of scenarios. I think Burrow would have been back for 2019, meaning that Fields would have had to have found somewhere else to continue his career after leaving Georgia.

Remember that at the time, SEC players were not permitted to transfer in conference play immediately. So, LSU would not have been a potential destination for Fields, so the swap would not have been that clean.

So, given the landscape at the time, I would think that Oklahoma would have been a good landing spot for him, given that the two previous Heisman winners had been OU quarterbacks who transferred to Norman from other schools.

With Fields running Lincoln Riley’s offense, that very well might have been enough to get the Sooners over the College Football Playoff hump and took them from semifinal stepping stone to legit title contender.

2019 Ohio State Buckeyes

2019 was a pretty great year for both the Buckeyes and for Joe Burrow. Clearly Joe’s Heisman and national championship year happened as an LSU Tiger, while the Buckeyes were being led by Fields. However, it is worth considering how much would have been different. Burrow would have been throwing to K.J. Hill, Chris Olave, Binjimen Victor, Garrett Wilson, and Austin Mack in 2019, with the best running back in the country, J.K. Dobbins in the backfield.

We saw what Fields was able to do in that offense in his first year, now you have to imagine what Burrow would have been able to do in his third. I think that Burrow very well might have still won the Heisman and national title with the Buckeyes in 2019. That offense was loaded, and the Buckeyes were already a few bad officiating calls away from making the title game as it is. So, given the extra time Burrow would have had perfecting Ryan Day’s scheme, I feel pretty confident that he could have reached the same heights.

2020 Ohio State Buckeyes

Now here is where things get interesting. With Burrow in the pros, and Fields no where on OSU’s radar, who would have been the Buckeyes’ quarterback in 2020? Would it have fallen to C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller. Obviously they were true freshmen on the roster last season, but I don’t know if Day would have felt comfortable turning the keys to the kingdom over to them on day 1.

Would D’Wan Mathis have chosen OSU over UGA had Fields not been in the way? Could Day have landed someone like four-star QB Ryan Helinski before he committed to South Carolina (and then transferred to Northwestern)? Who knows. Recruiting is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, when one big piece is removed from the table, there are hundreds of other micro moves that follow suit.

Perhaps Ohio State could have landed a transfer QB as a bridge to the Stroud, Miller, McCord era. D’Eriq King who left Houston to go to Miami could have been interesting in Day’s offense, and there’s even J.T. Daniels who transferred from USC to Georgia.

Coming off of the heels of Burrow, I would think Daniels might have been the most natural next step. So, while Daniels would not have been able to repeat what Fields did in the OSU offense in 2020, he would have likely stuck around to be Ohio State’s quarterback in 2021.


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