For me, and I assume for many of you as well, I had hoped that the Cotton Bowl would go a long way to determining what Ohio State’s starting quarterback situation in 2024 looked like. Whether that was cementing Devin Brown as QB1 or, after his injury, whether Lincoln Kienholz had grabbed the opportunity to play and refused to let it go. Obviously, neither of those happened, so instead we are back where we were a year ago with an uncertain future at the most important position on the team, just with slightly different pieces in play.
Last year, Kyle McCord was the veteran-most player in the mix with Brown and Kienholz — once he got to campus over the summer — also factoring in. Now, it’s McCord, Kienholz, and Air Noland, who will arrive in Columbus sometime in the next few days, if he isn’t there already.
But they aren’t the only guys who could be a part of the quarterback competition. At this point, we’ve all heard the rumblings about former Kansas State quarterback Will Howard potentially becoming a Buckeye at any time, and yesterday the imminent entrance into the transfer portal by current Liberty quarterback Kaidon Salter got many Buckeye fans excited about the possibility of him becoming a Buckeye as well. While it is believed that he will follow his former coach Hugh Freeze to Auburn, until that is confirmed, we’ll at least entertain the idea of him coming to Columbus.
Of course, given the seeming hesitance that Ryan Day and his staff have had to engage with the transfer portal so far this offseason, there is no guarantee that OSU will add another player to the quarterback competition, despite the apparent need.
Both Howard and Salter are multi-talented quarterbacks who bring more mobility — to varying degrees — to the position than we saw out of McCord this season. However, from a statistical standpoint, neither is a slam dunk major improvement over what the Buckeyes got out of the position in 2023. McCord had a better completion percentage and more yards than both Howard and Salter and had the same six interceptions that the latter did on 58 more passing attempts — Howard finished the season with 10 INTs on nine more passes than McCord.
However, Salter did rack up 25% more touchdown passes than McCord and Howard did, while also rushing for over 1,000 yards and an additional dozen scores — Howard had nine rushing TDs of his own.
Potential Quarterback Comparison
Admittedly, Liberty did not play the same level of competition that either Ohio State or Kansas State did, so Salter’s numbers are colored by the Conference USA of it all, but they are no less impressive.
Salter’s Flames were blown out by Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday as he went 15-for-24 for 126 yards a TD and an INT, but as we (and Florida State fans) know from painful experience, non-playoff bowl games aren’t necessarily the best indication of a team’s capabilities.
Howard had already entered the transfer portal by the time the Wildcats played NC State in the buzziest bowl of the season, the Pop-Tart Bowl. However, I would like to think that if he had known that he would get to partake in the consumption of the recently cooked corpse of the bowl’s mascot after the game, he might have reconsidered the timing of his decision.
Check out highlights from Will Howard’s 2023 Season:
There are certainly pros and cons to bringing in either Howard or Salter. They both have starting experience, they both were all-conference selections (Howard second team in the Big 12, Salter first team in Conference USA), and they both have the added element of being able to pick up yards with their feet that benefited Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud (even if it was never a major part of the OSU offense; but if the Buckeyes don’t figure out how to improve the offensive line in a significant way, the QB run could be more important in 2024 than it has been since the Urban Meyer and J.T. Barrett days.
However, both Brown and Kienholz have enough athletic ability to run as well and have the advantage of having been in Day’s offense longer than any potential transfer. Also, both Howard and Salter would be downgrades from McCord in terms of accuracy, but not by a tremendous amount; and the increased level of offensive skill would presumably help both in that department.
I’m not sure if this sentiment is shared by the bulk of Buckeye Nation, but I am of the opinion that neither fans nor the coaching staff can use the Cotton Bowl as a barometer for either Brown or Kienholz’s future as a starting quarterback. The former seemed to be finally finding his footing before he injured his ankle — he had completed four straight passes and was starting to look somewhat comfortable in the offense. Once he exited the game, Day and the OSU offensive staff did little to give Kienholz an opportunity to succeed.
While he had only been with the team for six months, we saw a number of true freshmen lead their teams in bowl games, so I don’t believe that was the issue. However, it was clear that the Ohio State coaching staff did little to prepare the rookie for the possibility of having to play — either throughout the season or in this bowl game — which is kind of astounding, because he did actually play throughout the season and was the backup against Missouri. But, to me at least, it seemed like Day and company had very little faith in the level of preparedness from Kienholz, which seems like a coaching issue more than a player issue.
The uninformative Cotton Bowl notwithstanding, I think that it is imperative that the Buckeyes add another veteran quarterback into the mix for the fall. Howard has just a single year of eligibility remaining, while Salter has two, but given that he is coming off of a Conference USA Most Valuable Player award, I would imagine that his goal is to transfer to a school in 2024 that will help him make the jump to the NFL in 2025.
Check out highlights from Kaidon Salter’s 2023 Season:
So, that should not be a detriment to keeping either Kienholz or Noland in the room, but it might pose problems for a third-year Brown. While I am sure that Day would like to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, now is not the time for the head coach to be worrying about the long-term implications of roster moves. While any transfer addition will have some level of domino effect across the program, Day has to go all out to win in 2024, or he might no longer be in Columbus to see how those moves play out beyond next season.
Does that mean that Day would be more inclined to roll the dice on the more athletically explosive Salter, even though he has never played at the Power 5 level; or would he be more comfortable with the more traditional Howard who has played against a more consistent level of competition? Your guess is as good as mine.
Since the transfer portal opened, there have been some around the Buckeye program and fandom that have accused the coaching staff of being asleep at the wheel. I have pushed back against that assessment because I was confident that there was more communication going on behind the scenes and I knew that the team was waiting to get word about the NFL futures of nearly a dozen starters. At this point, we still don’t know if Denzel Burke, Emeka Egbuka, TreVeyon Henderson, Lathan Ransom, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Tyleik Williams will return for another season in the scarlet and gray, and from the outside, it feels like that lack of clarity has paralyzed the Buckeye staff.
However, now that no more current players can enter the portal until after spring practice, hopefully, we will start to see more movement from inside the Woody to sure up the roster for next season. Of course, there is no guarantee that either Howard or Salter would even want to be a Buckeye — though there has been far more smoke surrounding Howard than Salter, who has not yet even officially entered the portal. Ultimately, Ohio State has a number of glaring holes that it needs to address over the course of the offseason — and potentially more depending on NFL Draft decisions — and quarterback is towards the top of the list. Whether they do so via the transfer portal or guys already on the roster doesn’t really matter, but Ryan Day has to get it right, or the Buckeyes could be looking for far more than just a QB around this time next year.