Throughout the month of August, LGHL writers will be attempting to answer some of the most important questions about Ohio State’s 2021 football season. To catch up on all editions of LGHL Asks, click HERE.
Seeing true freshmen making an impact on the football field is not an altogether uncommon scenario. And there’s no shortage of notable names from Ohio State history who have earned starting roles as freshmen — from Maurice Clarett to Andy Katzenmoyer to Ted Ginn Jr. More recently, names like J.K. Dobbins and Joey Bosa lit up the field straight out of high school.
However, there is a reason that starting a true freshman is an exception rather than the rule. That’s because there are inevitable growing pains. No matter how big the high school stage, it was smaller than playing at the Horseshoe. No matter how “big man on campus” a high school senior might be, that player has some dues to pay before seeing the college field — and more than likely a few pounds to add. That’s why we see players come into their own and earn starting spots more often than not later on in their freshmen seasons, if not later in their careers.
There’s also the piece that playing in a position group with multiple players on the field makes playing a true freshman more palatable — though the players’ deficiencies will certainly be called out. Michael Jordan started as a true freshman on the offensive line for Ohio State (the first true freshman to do so since Orlando Pace). He had the rest of a solid line, including veterans Pat Elflein, Billy Price and Jamarco Jones, to cushion him while he learned the ropes. Nick Bosa, who did not actually start as a true freshman, rotated in with the embarrassment of riches at defensive end in 2016 and got enough playing time to earn some well-deserved hype.
But a true freshman starting at quarterback? QUARTERBACK? That would be absurd. Generally, situations in which your starting quarterback is a true freshman are not good. Even a redshirted J.T. Barrett stepping in for an injured Braxton Miller was terrifying. If a program has a more seasoned quarterback available, it seems likely that the program will play the more seasoned quarterback until the youngin’ has time to develop — unless injury forces a change, like what happened to Landry Jones as a true freshman when Sam Bradford got hurt for Oklahoma.
That’s because the quarterback is the only player who touches the ball on every single offensive play (don’t come at me with your wildcat scenarios or mentioning the center snapping the ball). Teams rely on their quarterbacks to be cool, calm and collected, anchoring the offense with maturity.
While building size and strength might not be as much of a factor, there’s a reason Wonderlic scores are among the highest for quarterbacks — because that on-field vision and decision-making ability is so critical, and something that needs to be nurtured. The transition from high school to college, especially at a blue-blood program like Ohio State, comes with a learning curve.
When it comes to the quarterback position, as a result, we often don’t see brand new, fresh out of high school talent taking the field. Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller both stepped in as true freshmen mid-season, following Todd Boeckman and Joe Bauserman, respectively, who had started the season. While the time was short, there was some warming of the bench and learning from the sidelines that ultimately benefited both Pryor and Miller.
The list of notable quarterbacks who started the season as true freshman is not lengthy. Philip Rivers did it at NC State, and Chad Henne at TTUN. Robert Griffin III and Jake Fromm both entered respective season openers for Baylor and Georgia after sitting for their teams’ first few series.
But what if the true freshman is even truer than true, younger and greener than even the average true freshman?
Enter Quinn Ewers, the 18-year old quarterback who could upend everything we thought we knew about the Ohio State quarterback battle after the spring.
We’ve already looked at Ewers’ potential impact on recruiting and quarterback room, but we of course must analyze the costs and benefits in the scenarios in which true freshman quarterbacks compete for the starting role.
The big news of the week was how Ewers opted to come to campus early. But not early in the usual sense — no, Ewers is foregoing his entire high school senior season to come to Columbus this fall. The top quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class is arriving imminently, and could compete with CJ Stroud for the starting role
Part of Ewers’ drive was driven by NIL rule changes in the NCAA, with the quarterback citing his inability to profit from his name, image and likeness as motivation to head to college early. Of course that begs the question of if Ewers will be a trendsetter in the college football ranks, prompting other top recruits to skip high school in the same way elite college players skip their final seasons of eligibility?
In terms of the decision to enroll early, it’s certainly not uncommon to arrive to campus early. But getting a whole new season? Reclassifying into a new recruiting class?
When looking holistically, it’s actually not that great of a deal for Ewers. Ewers missed out on spring ball, and it would be unlikely for him to walk in and expect a starting role a month before the season starts. Instead, he’ll be competing for his role actively during the season — at a time when Ryan Day might be hesitant to shake things up at his quarterback position.
It’s perfectly conceivable that Ewers could end the season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
If he did manage to earn a starting role during his freshman season, would it pan out for the Buckeyes? Only Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway, in the 1985 season, won a national title as a true freshman. Jalen Hurts nearly matched the feat in 2017 against Clemson. But not quite.
Of course, we might be asking the wrong questions. Rather than asking how soon Ewers will start, perhaps we should instead be asking how long he will stick around in Columbus. We could have a new quarterback dynasty kick off this season, with a minimum three-year commitment from this fall. And that could mean a shot at breaking the Buckeyes’ career records.