Situated side-by-side at their respective lockers Saturday night, it was impossible not to notice the contrast.
Despite neither quarterback actually playing in Ohio State’s 27-21 win over Wisconsin, reporters swarmed OSU backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins, while former No. 2 QB Joe Burrow sat and watched, completely engulfed by the scrum trying to get a word with the redshirt freshman who saved the day against Michigan one week earlier.
The disparate scene was a perfect reflection of the attention that both players have received this season. All eyes were turned toward Haskins, while backs were turned toward Burrow.
None of this was the fault of Burrow, instead it was the result of a broken right hand in camp and some stellar relief play by Haskins.
Burrow and Haskins came into 2017 competing to be J.T. Barrett’s backup, but that competition ended the moment Burrow broke his hand.
Due to the nature of the college football season, there is no time for an in-season competition to be the backup quarterback, which meant that it was Haskins who would be Barrett’s understudy all season long.
“Yeah, I mean I knew it would be that way because someone has to get ready to play,” Burrow said after the Big Ten Championship Game. “And he played well when he was in there in the beginning of the year, he played well at the end of the year, so I knew it was his job and I just focused on trying to get better every single day.”
Not fully healthy until the second half of the year, Burrow was frustrated by the injury, but he wasn’t discouraged or frustrated by the way his 2017 turned out so far.
“We just won a Big Ten Championship, so I’m pretty excited,” he said.
While there is still one game to go this season, there are plenty of people wondering what is going to happen in 2018. Barrett will be gone and the job will once again be up in the air.
Any time there is a quarterback competition, there is speculation — even expectations — of somebody transferring once that battle is over.
Given the way that Haskins has played in stretches, some may already view him as the winner of that competition.
How does Burrow see things playing out?
“I’m going to evaluate my situation after the season, and until then I’m going to be all in for the Buckeyes,” he said.
What does he mean by “evaluate”?
“Just think about what I need to do to be the starter here, what I need to do moving forward going into spring ball,” he said.
There is no thinking ahead to the 2018 competition yet because there is still one more game to play, and with Barrett just coming off of a knee surgery, Burrow could be one or two snaps away from being needed.
“J.T. still just had surgery last week, so I still have to get ready for myself to play, and I’m just going to focus on getting better during bowl practice,” he said.
The fact that a No. 3 quarterback was facing questions about his future is simply the nature of the position. Quarterback is unlike any other position in sports. Only one guy can play, and Burrow has now had to sit behind J.T. Barrett for three seasons waiting and working toward his first opportunity to be the starting quarterback at Ohio State.
He knows that he is good enough to start, and he welcomes the competition.
“Yeah, I mean that’s what we knew we’d get into at Ohio State,” he said. “We come here to compete with the best in the country and challenge each other, and that’s what we’ve done.”
That being said, he still wants to play, and that didn’t happen this season. Instead, he watched Haskins put up essentially twice the numbers he did as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Some people may see the writing on the wall, but Urban Meyer doesn’t want anybody reading it.
Meyer and Burrow have had talks over the past year. Sometimes Burrow goes to Meyer and other times Meyer comes to him. The conversations are meant to keep Burrow’s spirits up and to let him know that nothing has been written.
“Me and Coach Meyer have a really good relationship. I think the trust between both of us is real and it’s true,” he said. “We talk about it every once in a while, but it’s tough to talk about things like that during the season when games have to be won and championships have to be won.”
Regardless of how that evaluation turns out this spring, Burrow — who graduates in May — still has the same desire he had the day he signed with Ohio State.
“Oh, absolutely. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to play,” he said. “This is where I want to be the starting quarterback.”