With the Ohio State Buckeyes set to kick off their 2019 football campaign in five days, WFNY continues our preview for the scarlet and gray before they begin their season this fall. The Buckeyes not only lost head coach Urban Meyer, but they also lost plenty of talent either due to graduation or the NFL Draft. With first-year head coach Ryan Day and new-look coaching staff on defense, Ohio State is used to losing plenty of talent every single year. It doesn’t mean that they will have to rebuild, they will instead reload, much as they have in the past. In fact, the word rebuild most likely doesn’t even exist in dictionaries across Columbus. You could argue that this year’s team is somehow better than last year’s in some ways. It truly shows just how deep this roster is, thanks to the recruiting efforts by the coaching staff, development of the players, and just how talented these kids are while they try and mesh together to potentially win a national championship at season’s end.
What a difference a year makes—even two or three years at that. In 2016, the Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback room featured J.T. Barrett, Joe Burrow, and Dwayne Haskins. In 2017, it consisted of Barrett, Haskins, Burrow, and Tate Martell. Then in 2018, the room had Haskins, Martell, and Matthew Baldwin. Fast forward to this season, and the quarterback room not only looks completely different, but the Buckeyes don’t even have a quarterback that has been on their roster for more than one season.
If you hadn’t paid attention to Ohio State football since they beat Washington in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, well, you would never be able to guess who any of the Buckeyes quarterbacks are heading into this season. In fact, only one was on the team in 2018. Martell, Matthew Baldwin, and walk-on Kory Curtis all decided to transfer from the program this offseason. With a brand-new look, Ohio State’s quarterback room consists of sophomore Justin Fields (Georgia transfer), junior Gunnar Hoak (Kentucky graduate transfer), and senior Chris Chugunov (West Virginia transfer), along with freshmen Danny Vanatsky, Jagger Laroe, and J.P. Andrade.1
Head coach Ryan Day continued to insist that Fields and Hoak were in a quarterback competition throughout both the spring and fall camp, but we all knew that it was Fields’ job to lose and unless he had a horrible few months and Hoak outperformed expectations by a wide margin, Fields would be the starting quarterback this season (and potentially beyond). He didn’t transfer from Georgia to be a backup quarterback and while Hoak also transferred, he knew what lied ahead.
Fields isn’t just any regular quarterback or transfer. was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 class and had a .9998 rating according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, which makes him the highest-rated player in Ohio State football history, barely edging out quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who had a .9997 rating when he committed to the Buckeyes in 2008.
During his first and only season at Georgia, Fields completed 27-of-39 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The then-freshman also ran for 266 yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries while backing up Jake Fromm. While we’re on the topic of statistics, Hoak has completed 13-of-26 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in five appearances so far in his career while Chugunov has completed 43-of-90 passes for 536 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in five career games. Chugunov, who started two games for the Mountaineers in 2017, is the only quarterback with any starting experience for the Buckeyes.
Fields didn’t get to showcase his talents much, but even with that, Ohio State knows how talented the kid is. Even before coming to Columbus, Fields has been familiar with the Buckeyes. He and Haskins are good friends who worked out together this past summer, but they also share the same quarterback coach, Quincy Avery.
With a 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame, Fields has the size and athleticism to beat opponents both through the air and on the ground. There’s a reason he was named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to college football’s best player, even before he has started a collegiate game or played a snap for the Buckeyes. The athleticism and potential are there, he just hasn’t proved yet if he can succeed at the collegiate level. Many expect him to, but it all comes down to what he can do on Saturdays in the fall, beginning this weekend.
This summer, he supposedly ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. If true, well, him and running back J.K. Dobbins could be a problem for Ohio State’s opponents this fall. Add in all the talent at wide receiver and tight end and this offense could be special.
Fields is not only talented, but Avery believes that his skill set is a mix between Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson, with the ability to run and throw with accuracy and power.
“It sounds crazy to compare him to those guys who are of course at the pinnacle of the sport, but you see characteristics of Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson,” Avery told Birm from Lettermen’s Row. “Those are guys he shares traits with or guys [Fields] reminds me of.”
Avery also believes that Fields has similar traits to Haskins, the quarterback that he will replace as Ohio State’s starting quarterback beginning this fall.
“They’re both elite passers,” Avery said. “And we all got to see what Dwayne did this year at Ohio State.”
While the talent is obviously there, one of the biggest obstacles for Fields entering his first season leading the Buckeyes is the fact that he has had about nine months to not only learn a new system and playbook but to gain some chemistry with his teammates, specifically the wide receivers. The good news is that he seems to be a quick learner and with the talent that he is, plenty of it will come naturally. The other part he will be able to make up for just because of how good he is. It also helps that he spent plenty of non-practice time at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center working with his wideouts. The extra work will pay off.
“The biggest obstacle now is just learning the offense, getting to know the offense put in front of him and understanding it quickly,” Avery said. “But that’s what he was able to do with the Elite 11 playbook. He’s a quick learner and it will make him very successful.
Ohio State could very well potentially have one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season. Yet, as of right now, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding every Buckeyes quarterback this year, but most specifically Fields. He has plenty of talent surrounding him, but will he be able to produce at the highest level now that he is the starting quarterback and leading one of the top teams in the country.
Haskins may have led the Buckeyes to finish as one of the top teams in the country and a Rose Bowl win in his first (and only) season as the starting quarterback, but Fields is in a much different position. Day and the rest of the coaching staff had multiple years to help groom Haskins into the quarterback that he has become. For Fields, they have months—not years. Add in that he has to learn the offense and learn about his new teammates’ tendencies and it’s not the same scenario whatsoever.
“A lot of people think well, Dwayne went from zero to 60 so fast and he just kind of jumped into the Heisman Trophy race, and that will happen (again). Well, that was a very different scenario than Justin Fields,” Day said at Big Ten media days in June. “(Dwayne) had been in the program, that was his third year and he also had game experience. I thought that was a unique situation.”
Much like every other season, however, good Fields is looms large on the success Ohio State will have this season. At arguably the most important position in sports, the Buckeyes have many more questions than answers—answers that Fields will have once the season kicks off. He could be one of the most athletic and successful quarterbacks to ever play for the Buckeyes. Fields also could be a five-star prospect that never comes to fruition.
Day loves to air it out, but with Fields’ ability to run the ball, will they maximize his speed and skillset and go back to the Barrett-esque offensive style or stick with the Haskins-type style?2 Can he be an effective passer when it’s needed the most? How much will he factor into the run game if the Buckeyes go back to the run-option offense? Can he bounce back after making mistakes? Interceptions and fumbles are bound to happen at some point, but can he keep his head up and not get down on himself or get in his own head? As the starting quarterback, can he be a leader offensively, and even for the entire team? Only a sophomore, is Fields ready for the big stage? Those are just a handful of the questions that lie ahead, ones that will likely be answered sooner rather than later. Day knows this and realizes that Fields will need some time to settle in.
“There’s going to be growth along the way, especially in those first six games,” he said at Big Ten media days. “There’s going to be growth, there’s going to be mistakes and we’re going to have to work through those things. Understanding that and understanding the expectations have to be managed a little bit in that room and making sure we’re transparent with the rest of the team that that position is going to need help.”
In terms of time, Fields has already stated that he has improved his game since the spring. Now, Ohio State has to hope that he can translate that into improving as the season goes along as well.
“I think I’m way better, just in terms of fundamentals, throwing-wise and just kind of staying in the pocket, pocket presence and all of that,” Fields said. “I think I’ve improved a lot from the spring.”
Much like Fields, Hoak will also have plenty to prove at Ohio State as well. He might be the backup quarterback, but if recent history tells us anything, it’s that he may be counted on to produce on the biggest of stages. While Buckeye Nation hopes that isn’t needed, is Hoak ready for it if the time comes? He won’t have to shoulder the load, but is he good enough to keep the offense afloat? Considering he just transferred to the Buckeyes in late April, does he know enough of the offense just four months later? Fields has gotten the majority of the first-team reps all camp, but Hoak must be prepared. He isn’t Barrett or Jones, who are two quarterbacks that have excelled while filling in for the injured starter, but he still has to at least be good enough to move the ball downfield.
Fields will have plenty on his shoulders in 2019, but given his past, he is not only used to the hype but will look to outperform those expectations from the start as well.
“You’ve just got to embrace it,” Fields said. “All this hype and all that, you’ve just got to back it up. Just don’t let everything get to your head. I try to stay even-keeled and stuff like that and don’t even listen to the outside people and just keep my head down and work.”
Even before his first start, Fields has been given the third-best odds (9-to-1) to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama gunslinger Tua Tagovailoa have been given the two-best odds (13-to-5) to take home college football’s most prestigious trophy at season’s end.
Following in the footsteps of players such as Miller, Barrett, Jones, and Haskins isn’t easy, especially given their success both on the field, in the trophy case, and in the record books, but Fields has the skillset to succeed when it matters most. He just has to focus on being himself and maximizing his skill set, not trying to be the next Miller, Barrett, Jones, or Haskins. Just be you, Justin Fields. The rest will work itself out.
2019 Ohio State Football Preview series: