The football season is not over yet, but as the regular season has wrapped up (with the exception of an Army vs. Navy game, which is not being played for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy — Go Air Force!), we may as well start thinking broadly about what’s to come for Ohio State come next season.
Some things we know will remain consistent. As Matt Tamanini pointed out earlier this week, Ryan Day is here to stay. And because time heals all wounds, by next September, the bitterness of a rough loss to Michigan will have worn off and we’ll all be delighted to keep the winningest current head coach (in win percentage) in the FBS firmly in Columbus.
Some things we know will change, including players departing for the NFL or running out of eligibility (yes, even the super seniors). Perhaps the biggest reason to hit the panic button heading into the offseason is the quarterback position, because C.J. Stroud, who’s still a Heisman contender even after a two-pick performance against Michigan, is undoubtedly bidding Buckeye Nation farewell after this season.
Ohio State lost one elite quarterback recruit to the transfer portal last season (Quinn Ewers), which really didn’t hurt at the time considering Stroud was just lighting up. The only other quarterback on the roster with any experience is Kyle McCord who, we know, is not at Stroud’s level. Freshman Devin Brown, the No. 6 quarterback in his recruiting class, is the other option.
Which leads us to the transfer portal and why we’re talking about this now.
I’ve previously written about the transfer portal and why Ohio State simply has not needed to leverage it the way other programs have. The Buckeyes have recruited efficiently and grown the players the program needs, well, within the program. When you look at positions like wide receivers, defensive linemen and running backs (Trey Sermon notwithstanding), it’s clear why: Ohio State continues to grow talent and the next man up mentality wins out.
When we look around at the quarterback room now, that confidence begins to wane. But of course, because of the college football universe we live in, not having an experienced quarterback now doesn’t mean your team can’t have one by next season.
As news came this week in the Big Ten of Michigan’s Cade McNamara, Indiana’s Connor Bazelak and Iowa’s Alex Padilla entering the portal, the idea of picking up a veteran to lead Ohio State to a title next season becomes very tempting. It doesn’t hurt that many of the players entering the portal now are grad transfers with a reasonable amount of experience.
Ohio State benefited from a transfer quarterback before the portal was what it is today when Justin Fields came to Ohio State from Georgia in 2019.
Unfortunately, not every quarterback is Justin Fields. Ohio State brought in transfers in cornerback Tanner McCalister, running back Chip Trayanum and kicker Noah Ruggles who all played roles for the Buckeyes this season, but bringing in a quarterback to run the offense is a whole different matter.
It’s worked for some: Caleb Williams moving to USC was a boon for the Trojans (though it’s kind of cheating when he’s following the coach who recruited him). Bo Nix similarly filled a void at Oregon this season.
Bringing in Padilla or McNamara doesn’t have quite the same level of excitement that the Fields transfer did, which makes sense since Day truly loves his star quarterbacks. If someone like North Carolina’s Drake May, the only underclassman in the top-five in the FBS in both passing touchdowns and passing yards this season, were to come available, then the transfer portal all of a sudden gets more exciting. May also happened to get an offer from Ohio State during his recruitment, as did DJ Uiagalelei and Hudson Card, the latter of whom entered the transfer portal Tuesday. These players, who already have a relationship with Day, would probably have Ohio State close to the top of their target lists.
The quarterback position looks to be the biggest void to fill this coming offseason, and Day has proven adept at the offseason adjustment. Last season, after blatant challenges on the offensive line against Michigan (including pass protection and run blocking), Day brought in Justin Frye. The results were clear: The Buckeyes gave up just one sack to Michigan this season compared to four last year. And Ohio State had 143 yards on the ground in 2022 versus 64 last year.
Defensively — something we saw as a problem well before the Michigan game in 2021 — Day brought in Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator, which gave immediate life to the defense. While that defense was disappointing against Michigan, we saw a great improvement over the other 11 games.
And if Day has one area of expertise, it’s quarterbacks. It’s a near certain that if a big name quarterback comes on the market, they’ll be interested in a program that is quarterback centric, where they can fill up the stat sheet and position themselves well for the NFL. That program is Ohio State.
While things are unclear now, that’s an area we can trust will get fixed come September 2023.