Ohio State made a somewhat sizable splash in the transfer portal on Thursday afternoon when former Kansas State quarterback Will Howard announced his commitment to the Buckeyes. Howard, while not quite the same caliber a transfer as Justin Fields in 2019, brings with him four years of experience in the P5, having helped lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 title in 2022, as well as an impressive dual-threat ability for a player with a bigger frame at 6-foot-5, 242 pounds.
Howard’s numbers from this past season are nothing flashy. He completed just over 61% of his passes for 2,643 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Comparatively, Kyle McCord completed nearly 66% of his passes for 3,170 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions — all better than Howard, aside from an equal number of passing TDs. However, Howard added another 351 yards and nine TDs on the ground, whereas McCord finished with -65 yards rushing and zero scores, and he did not have a Marvin Harrison Jr. at his disposal.
While maybe not a clear upgrade just looking at the stats, there are obvious areas of Howard’s game that Ohio State will look to capitalize on where he performed better than McCord this past season. Howard fared better under pressure, completing 45% of his passes (46-of-102) for 555 yards and eight TDs compared to 39% (31-of-79) for 387 yards and two TDs for McCord, per PFF. While the Buckeyes don't often ask their QB to run the ball, having a guy with nearly 1,000 career rushing yards and 19 TDs on the ground will also help in areas like the red zone, where Ohio State has had issues over the past several seasons without a true dual-threat QB.
Still, at the end of the day, Ryan Day will hope to get an even better version of Howard than we saw in his four seasons in Manhattan, Kansas. While it is tough to expect a significant leap from a guy heading into his fifth year of college football, there is a precedent for a quarterback to find a new gear with a better program — no disrespect to Kansas State — later in their career. It isn’t a perfect apples to apples comparison, but Day will look to mirror the success of guys like Bo Nix at Oregon and Michael Penix Jr. at Washington with Howard at Ohio State.
Nix was a borderline five-star prospect in the 2019 class, beginning his career at Auburn. In his three years with the Tigers, the Alabama native was largely average, completing under 60% of his passes with 39 TDs to 16 INTs over 34 games. He then transferred to Oregon, where he parlayed a 3,600-yard passing performance in 2022 with the Ducks into a 2023 campaign that saw him throw for over 4,500 yards with 45 TDs and just three picks, completing over 77% of his passes — all career highs — and finishing third for the Heisman Trophy.
Penix Jr. was a three-star prospect out of Florida in the 2018 class, beginning his career at Indiana. Often banged up with the Hoosiers, Penix compiled just under 4,200 yards passing with 29 TDs and 15 INTs in 21 games spanning four seasons in Bloomington. He then transferred to Washington, where he has transcended into superstardom with back-to-back 4,600-yard-plus passing seasons with 31 TDs and 8 INTs in 2022 to go along with 35 TDs and nine INTs in 2023 — finishing second for the Heisman — with still one game to play as he has helped lead the Huskies to the national title game.
Howard was a lower-rated player as a prospect than both Nix and Penix Jr., and will not have the added bonus of two years at his new destination with just one year of eligibility remaining. However, he is also coming from a better starting point than either of those other transfer QBs, as his performance in his four seasons at Kansas State was better than that of Nix at Auburn or Penix Jr. at Indiana. Again, it isn’t a perfect comparison, but the Buckeyes will be hoping for a similar leap in production for Howard at Ohio State. If nothing else, the tremendous increase in talent around him will aid in that improvement.
Deuce Vaughn was a talented backfield mate for Howard in his first three seasons at K-State, but Howard has never had anything near the caliber of weapons around him that he will with the Buckeyes. In 2023, the Wildcats’ three leading pass-catchers were a former walk-on tight end, a formerly unranked 5-foot-9 wide receiver, and a three-star freshman receiver ranked in the low 1,300s. I’m sure all three of these guys are wonderful teammates who have or will put together respectable collegiate careers, but Howard wasn’t exactly playing with a stacked deck. Kansas State has not had an offensive skill player drafted in the first five rounds since Tyler Lockett in 2015.
Now, Howard will be leading an offense with nothing but four- and five-star players across the board. It seems more than likely that TreVeyon Henderson — former five-star and No. 1 overall RB in 2021 — will return to join Howard in the backfield, while his receiver core will be made up of some combination of Carnell Tate (five-star), Brandon Inniss (five-star), Jeremiah Smith (five-star, No. 1 overall player in 2024) and potentially Emeka Egbuka (five-star) plus an exciting young tight end in Jelani Thurman (high four-star). Needless to say, Howard will have a lot more dependable options at his disposal at Ohio State, likely all of whom will be in the NFL in the near future.
I’m not saying that Will Howard is necessarily going to have the type of season that Nix or Penix had in 2023 with the Buckeyes in 2024, but it isn’t out of the question that the fifth-year man could see his play improve somewhat significantly next season with Day’s knowledge of the position and a treasure trove of supreme talent around him. Howard is coming to Ohio State to try to win a national championship and improve his NFL Draft stock, and he will have a chance to do both of those things as QB1 in Columbus.