Ryan Day just added one of the most explosive quarterback recruits in recent memory to his roster. Now the big question is whether Justin Fields will be able to play for the Buckeyes in 2019.
Fields is transferring to Ohio State after spending his freshman season of 2018 at Georgia.
He is not a grad transfer, so he will not automatically be eligible to play this fall. However, there is a path that could get him there.
Fields will have to apply the NCAA for a hardship waiver, similar to the one granted to Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson when he transferred from Ole Miss.
In Patterson’s case, he said the Rebels’ coaching staff lied to him about the severity of NCAA sanctions that were looming over the program. His appeal was granted and he received immediate eligibility.
For Fields, the case would likely center on an ugly incident during a football game in Athens last fall. A Georgia baseball player directed a racial slur at Fields from the stands. The player later apologized and was kicked off the baseball team.
Fields could argue that a racial slur directed at him by another student-athlete made him feel unsafe at UGA, necessitating an immediate transfer.
That is not necessarily the kind of case the NCAA would want to push back on. The optics of an African-American athlete being called a racial slur, and then having his professed concerns about it downplayed by the sport’s governing body would not be great.
The timetable for that decision may be a few months away, however. Last year, Patterson wasn’t granted eligibility until April 27.
Fields has not yet even officially applied for that waiver.
Assuming he is eligible, the next question is whether he can beat out the quarterbacks who are already on the roster.
Dwayne Haskins has not officially declared for the NFL Draft yet. But given that Haskins said before the Rose Bowl that he and Fields had been in contact about Haskins’ decision, it’s certainly suggestive of what that choice might be.
“He hit me up earlier. He’s just waiting to see what I do,” Haskins said on December 29. “I try to be positive and help as many people as I can. You know, Justin is going through something right now.”
Assuming Haskins is gone, there would be four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster: Redshirt sophomore Tate Martell, redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin, grad transfer senior Chris Chugunov, and Fields.
It’s extremely unlikely that anyone has been guaranteed the starting spot by the OSU coaching staff. Based on Fields’ pedigree and Martell’s experience in the program, most will assume that one of the two will win the starting job.
Day is extremely high on Baldwin, but he was limited by a lingering knee injury during summer and early fall, and did not appear in any games.
“It’s an NFL-type of offense, so it’s difficult to learn,” he said. “It takes people a while to get it down. Even Dwayne, I was talking to Dwayne about it, he was like, ‘Well, it took me over a year to feel like I was even comfortable on the field.’ Now, after two years of being in, I know what I’m doing. I’m on point with everything I do. I’m running the offense.”
Martell said he “100 percent” expected to be the Buckeyes’ starter this fall, and said he had absolutely no plans to transfer.
““Why would I leave for somebody who hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” he said on December 30. “I’ve put two years of working my ass off into something that I’ve been praying for and dreaming of my whole life. To just run from somebody that hasn’t put a single second into workouts or anything like that and doesn’t know what the program is all about, there’s not a chance.”
There are still a few hurdles to clear, but the Buckeyes could be on the verge of one of the most interesting and exciting quarterback battles in school history.