COLUMBUS, Ohio — Third-year Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Wednesday opened a preseason camp for the first time without a good idea of who’s going to start at quarterback.
“If I did, I’d probably sleep a little better right now, but I don’t,” Day said at Big Ten media days last month.
Justin Fields, who led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff the last two years, left for the NFL. With no incumbent, Day’s QB candidates are a pair of second-year players and a true freshman, none of whom have thrown a pass in a college game.
It’s the first time since 1952 — Woody Hayes’ second season — that Ohio State will start a quarterback with zero college passing attempts. Incidentally, the Buckeyes finished 6-3 that year, but beat Michigan 27-3.
C.J. Stroud — who was at the front of the quarterback line when drills began Wednesday morning — and Jack Miller III were two of the top prep signal-callers in the country when Ohio State snagged them in the 2020 recruiting class. Five-star 2021 recruit Kyle McCord was an early enrollee and was thrown into the competition right away.
The wild card is Quinn Ewers, the top quarterback prospect in the class of 2022 who says he is skipping his senior year of high school in Texas and plans to enroll at Ohio State so he can begin taking advantage of endorsement deals under new NCAA rules. He will be added to mix when he arrives.
“It’s a very rare situation,” Miller said. “It’s what you come to Ohio State for, though. At the end of the day, you come here to compete and be in that room with the best guys in the country.”
Day, who is 23-2 in two seasons since taking over for Urban Meyer, said he hopes the presumptive starter will emerge in the first two weeks of camp. There won’t be any tuneup games this year for the Buckeyes, who open on the road Sept. 2 against Big Ten rival Minnesota and come back home in Week 2 to face Oregon.
“For us to go win championships and get to where we need to get to, that room has to be strong, and they’ve got to pull for each other,” Day said of the quarterbacks. “We’re gonna need that entire room to be strong. Last time they won a national championship (2014), it took several to go win it, and I know that’s probably going to be the case this year.”
Because the 2020 season was shortened and there wasn’t much mop-up duty to be had, neither Stroud nor Miller got much playing time. Stroud was the first off the bench, but they had just 18 snaps between them.
Stroud, Miller and McCord all got plenty of action in the April spring game, but none gained a clear edge.
“It’s just a culture of fight, it’s the culture of Ohio State,” Stroud said. “Our structure is just competition.”
With Fields the clear starter in Day’s first two years, this will be the first real quarterback derby over which he has presided, although he was an offensive assistant to Urban Meyer when future first-round draft NFL draft picks Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow were battling it out in the spring of 2018. Burrow settled the matter when he transferred to LSU, eventually winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
Whoever wins the starting role this summer will have an all-star supporting cast, as is the norm at Ohio State. The Buckeyes got a huge break when last year’s leading receiver, Chris Olave, decided to return for his senior year. Olave and Garrett Wilson arguably will be the best wide receiver tandem in college football.
All-American tackle Thayer Munford is back for his senior year, anchoring an offensive line loaded with talent. Master Teague III starts the season as the incumbent at running back, but he will be pushed by younger players.
NOTES: Day said an unspecified injury will keep defensive end Tyler Friday out for all of camp and “most of the season.” The senior was expected to be significant contributor. ... Day said over 90% of the 117 players in camp have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.