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This or That: Comparing the seasons of Ohio State’s recent first-year starting quarterbacks

Looking back at Ohio State quarterback’s first years, we can look at what the Buckeyes really need this season

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

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about taking sides in head-to-head debates. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”This or That” articles here.

Under the tutelage of Ryan Day, Ohio State football has developed three consecutive first-round picks at the quarterback position. Those players were C.J. Stroud, Justin Fields, and Dwayne Haskins Jr. who have elevated the position in consecutive years

There is absolutely no pressure on the next guy in line, but with the two names battling out for the job this season, there is a high level of expectations for whoever wins the job. Kyle McCord is the front-runner for the job in his third year in the program, he’s competing with Devin Brown who has all the raw talent to be the next player in the quarterback lineage.

Since this is going to be whoever wins the job’s first year, the Buckeyes will need a certain level of success to meet the lofty expectations the program has. Each of the four previous quarterbacks at Ohio State has had success immediately to varying levels. Those levels have led to multiple playoff berths, a national title, a bunch of awards, and a lot of success for the Buckeyes.

Seeing the amount of success definitely sets the bar high, but if they can emulate any of these four quarterbacks the talent on the team can carry them the rest of the way. That is why we need to see if ‘this or that’ season is the best of the first-year starters, and how the next quarterback can find success looking back at the past.

J.T. Barrett (2014)

Ohio State’s last national championship was won on the back of a great defense, an incredible stretch of games by an all-time great running back, and an iconic regular season by a red-shirt freshman signal caller named Joe Thomas Barrett IV. Now Barrett broke his leg against TTUN, but he set the tone for the team after a disappointing loss early in the season against a savvy Virginia Tech team.

Barrett threw for 2834 yards and added 938 yards on the ground with 45 total touchdowns on the way to finishing fifth in Heisman voting. His 11-1 record was finished by backup quarterback Cardale Jones with the iconic College Football Playoff run to finish with a 14-1 record en route to the school’s eighth national title. This would not have happened though without J.T. Barrett’s regular season performance.

The Buckeyes had Ezekiel Elliot, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, and loads of veteran offensive talent. On the other side, the emergence of Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Josh Perry, and the players in the secondary led to one of the most dominant teams in the country. The reason this is brought up, Ohio State might have an equally loaded roster meaning the quarterback just needs to guide this team.

Barrett’s stats were great, they do not hold up to the guys who followed, but he has something the others don’t. That being a national title, this season also shows whoever loses the job needs to stay ready.

Dwayne Haskins (2018)

Following a legend up is never easy, especially when following up the legend comes in a tumultuous time when a legendary coach is in his final season. Obviously, the stats speak for themselves, but the more laid-back leadership style of Haskins really provided a cool aura to the offense. There was the one game everybody wants to forget, but the overall feel of the tenure was the offense was not the problem for the Buckeyes in 2018.

Haskins still holds the single-season record for passing yards with 4831 yards and 50 touchdown passes which is also a record. From an individual statistics standpoint, this was arguably the most successful season from a quarterback in school history. It was also needed because Ohio State’s run game was hit or miss and the Buckeyes’ defense was one of the worst in school history.

Even with all the statistical success Haskins had, I do think many fans would trade those individual records for more team success. The Buckeyes still won a Big Ten title as well, so overall the year was not a failure. Ending the Meyer era with a Rose Bowl win was a great silver medal, but picturing Haskins with a competent defense is a scary sight. If the defense lives up to expectations, THIS would in fact be an ideal year for them to replicate.

Justin Fields (2019)

The lone transfer quarterback on the list, Fields came at a time of need in the program. Ryan Day was taking the helm of the program, and the Buckeyes were coming off their worst defensive season in school history up to that point. In comes the kid from Georgia, a truly dynamic dual-threat — it was him or Tate Martell. Seeing how both careers turned out, Ohio State was incredibly fortunate that Fields was able to come to Columbus.

Neither quarterback currently in the program competing for the starting job will come close to the athletic profile of Fields, so this is probably the least likely scenario. Fields was responsible for 3,757 yards and 55 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. He also led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and was a Heisman Finalist alongside teammate Chase Young. The marriage of Ohio State’s elite defense that season and Fields’ ability to make things happen is something the Buckeyes look for in every quarterback.

Hindsight shows us that Fields’ creativity and raw physical talent from the position were really amplified by his big play ability in high-pressure moments. He lived up to the hype and exceeded despite not taking home any additional hardware to go with his two Big Ten Titles and playoff revenge game against Clemson. Fields was also an underrated manager of the game keeping the sticks moving and giving the defense on the other side a lead to defend against.

Even though no one can really match Fields’ athleticism, if they can find their way of being productive and keeping the offense on the field it will be enough. This probably won’t be the best example given the skill set, but there are some aspects that should be even more appreciated from Fields’ time at Ohio State.

C.J. Stroud (2021)

The Ohio State Buckeye signal-caller was elite to the point of being taken second in the NFL Draft. He was by far the most pro-ready quarterback at Ohio State, but that translated to two losses against Michigan, and his most iconic moment was foiled by a missed field goal against Georgia. That game was truly his magnum opus, it answered all the questions about his weaknesses for draft experts. It also highlighted the unfortunate other side of the Stroud era, any time there was a need to rely on someone else, unfortunately, came up short.

This started in Stroud’s first year, there was a lot of pressure replacing Fields and taking the Buckeyes to the same high point as his predecessor. After a slow start against Minnesota, Stroud came to life despite injuring his clavicle. After an up-and-down next couple of games, he gave way to Kyle McCord starting the Akron game to rest up his shoulder. Some fans felt that it was time to pass the keys to McCord after that which was laughable.

As his season went on Stroud had a record number of six touchdown games, threw for the second most yards in Big Ten history, and ended the year with an iconic Rose Bowl performance. The biggest issue was his loss to Michigan which was amplified the following year with another. Stroud had a similar issue Haskins did, the defense was less than stellar.

For Ohio State, Stroud kept the offensive side of the program afloat. In that first year, Ohio State fell short of their three goals. This would be the worst-case scenario for Ryan Day to do for a third year in a row adding pressure to whoever is next in line. Barrett was not a first-round pick, so I think Ohio State fans would trade the draft status for a national title any day of the week.

Looking back at the success of Ohio State’s starting quarterbacks over the last few years, there are two major takeaways. First, they have all taken over the program in their own way. Each player has had to live up to a different set of program expectations, and they have also all been successful in their own way. The second of the takeaways, Ryan Day has earned the confidence to get the most out of whoever his starter is.

Even though it was not his first year as a starter, Barrett was elite in his final season with Day calling the plays. The other three players in Haskins, Fields, and Stroud all had success running the offense. If the next quarterback blazes their own path forward, they will have a better roster than any of the predecessors.

Going through this exercise, the best ending is that of J.T. Barrett’s first season. It was by far the least exciting of the quarterback play discussed here. The next guy in the quarterback lineage does not have to break every record, win every award, or even be a statistical anomaly.

At the end of the day, Ohio State fans care about this one thing, winning football games. The next quarterback needs that to be their reputation, and whoever it is will have talent around him to get the job done.