You don’t land a transfer quarterback like Justin Fields very often. The 5-star prospect left Georgia for Ohio State following his freshman season.
He arrives with almost limitless talent, both throwing and running the football. The hype around Fields is so intense that he was already a 12-to-1 bet to win the 2019 Heisman trophy before ever stepping on a practice field in Columbus.
But you also don’t land a transfer quarterback like Chris Chugunov very often, either.
Chugunov started his career at West Virginia and arrived at OSU with considerably less fanfare than Fields in August 2018.
He had relieved the injured Will Grier in WVU’s loss to Texas in 2017, and started the Mountaineers’ regular season finale against Oklahoma, and a bowl game loss to Utah.
His numbers weren’t great; he completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 536 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. But Chugunov brought some major-conference starting experience, and came to OSU knowing that he wasn’t going to start over Dwayne Haskins.
Before Chugunov got to Columbus, the Buckeyes had just three scholarship quarterbacks, following the transfer of Joe Burrow to LSU.
At the time, Matthew Baldwin was still recovering from a knee injury and wasn’t going to be ready to play until mid-season.
That left just Haskins and Tate Martell as healthy scholarship quarterbacks.
Chugunov provided some valuable insurance for the 2018 Buckeyes. He only took four snaps during the season, all in the closing minutes of a blowout win over Rutgers. But if Haskins and Martell had gotten hurt, he was there.
The 2019 Buckeyes are now in a similar position to the previous year’s team. Haskins and Martell are gone and long-time commit Dwan Mathis signed with Georgia instead of the Buckeyes, leaving only Fields, Baldwin, and Chugunov as scholarship quarterbacks.
In February, head coach Ryan Day said he would prefer to have another.
“You’d like to have four in today’s day and age,” Day said on National Signing Day. “When you look around the country, not too many teams have four quality quarterbacks on their roster.”
If Day is going to get to four this season, he’ll have to do it on the transfer market. And that’s a tough sell. Most quarterbacks who are looking to transfer are doing so for an opportunity to play.
Martell left to be the starter at Miami. Burrow left to be QB1 at LSU.
Chugunov was different. He wasn’t harboring dreams of one day becoming an NFL star. That meant that OSU represented a great destination, even if he wasn’t the starter.
“The opportunities that Ohio State provides for off the field, Real Life Wednesdays, internships, obviously the master’s program I’m in,” Chugunov said.
Chugunov is working on his masters in Sport Management and preparing to take the LSAT. When this season ends, he may head for law school instead of the NFL Combine. He hopes to one day be a sports agent.
But by coming to OSU, he’s getting his graduate degree paid for, and has already won a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl ring.
If Day is going to add a fourth quarterback for 2019, his most likely answer is someone like Chugunov who cares about more than just starting.
And the best-case scenario is someone exactly like Chugunov, who came to OSU with not one, but two years of eligibility remaining. That’s because the number crunch won’t stop after this year.
Fields and Baldwin will both return for 2020 – provided the backup doesn’t transfer – and highly-touted 4-star recruit Jack Miller will arrive. But that’s still only three guys.
Adding a second freshman QB recruit for 2020 could create issues if Miller was told that he would be the only quarterback in the class. And of course, there’s no guarantee that this fall’s backup will stick around for another year instead of transferring.
If the Buckeyes can identify a two-year player who was willing to come to OSU with the understanding that he would likely be a backup, that would potentially solve the 2019 and 2020 depth issues.
There are several quarterbacks graduating from major-conference programs this spring who could be available on the grad transfer market. But until they actually put their names in the transfer portal, it’s not worth getting too excited about any of them individually.
Even then, not many of them will likely be willing to accept a backup role before even stepping on campus, and fewer still will have two years of eligibility left.
Chris Chugunov probably won’t break any of Dwayne Haskins’ new passing records while he’s at Ohio State. But finding another Chugunov would be a huge win for Day and his program for the next couple seasons.