Ohio State is the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten in 2021, but coach Ryan Day has a tough assignment on tap this spring. Quarterback Justin Fields departed early for the NFL, leaving virtually no experience at the position. But as usual in Columbus, the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for talent. And the pipeline for the 2022 recruiting class looks strong if Southlake Carroll (Texas) prospect Quinn Ewers stays committed to Ohio State.
The battle to replace Fields will heat up this spring when the Buckeyes open practice. Three quarterbacks – Kyle McCord, Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud – are set to battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Fields attempted all of the passes for Ohio State in 2020, so none of these three quarterbacks have thrown a forward pass in the Big Ten. However, Miller and Stroud both recorded snaps in two games, so neither is completely void of game experience. According to Pro Football Focus, Miller recorded 10 snaps in 2020 and Stroud had eight. McCord will be a true freshman for ’21.
Regardless of who starts under center, the winner of the job has an elite play-caller in Day, along with one of the best receiving corps in college football. Also, the return of left tackle Thayer Munford adds to a standout offensive line for 2021.
Who Will Replace Justin Fields in 2021? Here’s a look at the three candidates:
Recruiting Rank: 5-Star, No. 25 Overall by 247Sports Composite
McCord is the highest-rated of the three expected to compete for the starting job. The Pennsylvania native threw for 6,887 yards and 88 touchdowns during his high school career at St. Joseph's Prep.
Jack Miller III
Recruiting Rank: 4-Star, No. 334 Overall by 247Sports Composite
Arizona is a state on the rise for quarterback talent, and Miller arrived in Columbus after a prolific career at Chaparral High School. In four years as a varsity starter, Miller tossed 115 touchdowns and set a 2A state record with 53 in a single season. Highlights from high school show good touch, accuracy and plenty of arm strength to get the ball downfield and to intermediate routes. Miller had a short touchdown run (and 23 total rushing yards on two carries) in garbage time of Ohio State's season-opening 52-17 rout of Nebraska.
Recruiting Rank: 4-Star, No. 42 Overall by 247Sports Composite
Stroud ranked as a 4-star in the 247Sports Composite, but the recruiting service had him as a 5-star in its evaluation. The California native threw for 3,878 yards and 47 touchdowns in a prolific senior year at Rancho Cucamonga High School. Stroud already made a quick impression at Ohio State in limited snaps with a 48-yard touchdown run against Michigan State this past season.
Early Depth Chart Projection: Stroud seems to have the inside track over McCord and Miller to win the starting job.
Supporting Cast for 2021
Running Backs (stats from 2020 season)
Master Teague III – 104 carries for 514 yards and 8 TDs
Steele Chambers – 9 carries for 86 yards
Miyan Williams – 10 carries for 64 yards
Marcus Crowley – 6 carries for 14 yards
TreVeyon Henderson (No. 24 overall by 247Sports Composite)
Evan Pryor (No. 81 overall by 247Sports Composite)
Chris Olave – 50 receptions for 729 yards and 7 TDs
Garrett Wilson – 43 receptions for 723 yards and 6 TDs
Jameson Williams – 9 receptions for 154 yards and 2 TDs
Julian Fleming – 7 receptions for 74 yards
Jaxon Smith-Njigba – 10 receptions for 49 yards and 1 TD
Emeka Egbuka (No. 9 overall by 247Sports Composite)
Jayden Ballard (No. 66 overall by 247Sports Composite)
Marvin Harrison Jr. (No. 91 overall by 247Sports Composite)
Jeremy Ruckert – 13 receptions for 151 yards and 5 TDs
Luke Farrell – 5 receptions for 37 yards and 1 TD
LT Thayer Munford – No sacks allowed in 2020
LG Harry Miller – expected to move to center
RT Nicholas Petit-Frere – No sacks allowed in 2020
Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis will be missed on the interior, but Dawand Jones, Paris Johnson, Matthew Jones, and Luke Wypler are capable options at guard to allow Miller to kick to center.
Yes, the Buckeyes are replacing an elite quarterback. But Ryan Day’s offense is still going to be among the best in college football. Whoever wins the battle under center doesn’t have any experience as an FBS passer. However, Ohio State has four receivers who ranked as a 5-star recruit in high school, return plenty of experience at running back with Teague, Williams and Chambers, with Henderson likely to play in 2021.
Day and his staff won’t have a ton of time to get the young quarterbacks ready with a game against Oregon in Week 2 of the 2021 season. But make no mistake: The Buckeyes are going to be just fine (and then some) with Stroud, Miller or McCord at the controls with the strong supporting cast in place.
(Top photo courtesy of @OhioStateFB)