Ohio State Buckeyes: Youth, lack of experience make this QB competition unique

When it comes to the Ohio State quarterbacks competition, coach Ryan Day knows he should have good raw material to work with.

That’s about it.

“They’re both young,” was the first thing Day said when asked what he learned about C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III over the past year.

Five-star recruit Kyle McCord joins four-stars Stroud and Miller this winter to form a three-way battle to replace Justin Fields.

While Stroud and Miller had the opportunity to learn the offense first-hand from Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Denis since they enrolled last January, they have thrown the same number of passes in a college game as McCord, who graduated from Philadelphia St. Joseph’s in December.

That would be none.

“I wish we were further along,” Day said. “I wish they had gotten more game reps (because) you don’t really know what you have in a quarterback until they’re playing in the game.”

Quarterback competitions are a regular part of college football since everyone has a limited amount of eligibility and most stars at the position go pro as soon as they can.

This one figures to be unique from others at Ohio State, though, because of the lack of experience, age or a clear favorite.

Two years ago, Fields and redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin competed in the spring, but Fields entered the race with advantages both in recruiting pedigree and game experience. A five-star high school recruit, Fields had played in games as the No. 2 quarterback at Georgia the previous fall while Baldwin, a lesser-regarded prospect from Texas, was still recovering from a high school knee injury.

The year before that, eventual starter Dwayne Haskins entered the spring with a leg up on Joe Burrow because Haskins had finished 2017 as the backup and led a stirring comeback at Michigan when J.T. Barrett was injured.

In 2015, then-head coach Urban Meyer initially chose Cardale Jones over Barrett in no small part because Jones had finished the previous season as the starter (not to mention winning the Big Ten and national titles), but that situation was unique in its own right because Barrett had already started 12 games and put up historic numbers for an Ohio State quarterback.

In the 2011 preseason, veteran Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller vied in the preseason to replace Terrelle Pryor. While Miller, a five-star recruit from Wayne High School, had the pedigree, he had too much ground to make up early and began the season behind Bauserman, a former pro baseball prospect.

A three-way quarterback competition isn’t unprecedented. Jim Tressel oversaw one of those in 2007 when Todd Boeckman beat out Robby Scheonhoft and Antonio Henton. Having been around since 2003 and having served as Troy Smith’s backup the previous season, Boeckman was perceived as the favorite, though, and he was able to hold off the more athletic but less experienced competition.

In all of the above cases, at least one of the competitors had some game experience or at least a full, normal season of time as a team’s backup quarterback.

Stroud and Miller alternated as Fields backup in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out much of spring practice, altered the preseason and limited the Buckeyes to eight games rather than the typical 12-15.

“These guys have very, very limited reps, which you would have more if you had a normal spring, preseason and then the season,” Day said. “So, yeah, we wish they were further along and we’d gotten to see them in practice every day, but really what matters is how they play.

“So we’re going to have to find ways this spring between C.J., Jack and Kyle to give them as many game-like situations (as possible) to figure out exactly what we’ve got.”

Although coaches typically like to have a starter in place as soon as possible in order to begin shaping the offense around his strengths and give the player a chance to establish himself as a leader, Day said he does not plan to put a timeline on making a decision.

“Those guys are gonna roll, and they’re gonna get as many reps as they can, and then if one guy starts to separate early on, then he goes and runs with it,” Day said. “I look at spring and the preseason as just a continuation of each other. So if we have 15 practices in the spring, the first practice of preseason is really practice 16. And then as you go along, usually in these situations it kind of takes care of itself and somebody steps up. And if they don’t, then we keep rolling from there.”

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