When Matthew Baldwin put his name in the Transfer Portal, it turned a “thin but playable” Ohio State quarterback situation into a full-on emergency.
Assuming Baldwin goes through with his transfer – and it certainly sounds like he will – the Buckeyes will be down to just two scholarship quarterbacks, neither of whom they signed out of high school. Justin Fields just transferred to OSU in January, and Chris Chugunov arrived late last summer.
It’s very unlikely that Ryan Day and his staff will allow that to continue through the fall. The Bucks will almost certainly add a transfer or grad transfer this summer to help get the depth chart out of “meltdown” range.
But papering over the holes every offseason with a grad transfer isn’t a viable long-term strategy. After all, we’ve seen and heard constantly from players and coaches how difficult it is to fully understand the OSU offense in a player’s first season.
A one-year grad transfer would just be getting the hang of the playbook right around the time he ran out of eligibility.
Chugunov was a rare grad transfer with two years of eligibility remaining, which made him an ideal fit. It’s somewhere between possible and likely that another signal-caller like that will end up on the market in the coming weeks, but there aren’t too many to go around year after year.
That means this is likely an issue the Buckeyes will have to address in their high school recruiting.
For years, most major programs have limited their classes to just one quarterback signee. That’s a function of the position. Only one quarterback is going to play, which means a recruit is going to have to fight his way past three or more players to get to the top of the depth chart. Many players understandably don’t want to make that even tougher by having to deal with competition in their own recruiting class.
But the “one quarterback every year” model may simply not be viable in the new world of the Quarterback Transfer Perpetual Motion Machine.
Stephen Collier was the lone signee in 2014. He was a reserve for a couple years, then retired to work as a staffer within the program.
The Buckeyes signed Joe Burrow in 2015. He grad transferred to LSU following his redshirt sophomore season when he didn’t have a clear path to the starting job.
Dwayne Haskins was the 2016 signee. He sat behind J.T. Barrett for two seasons, rewrote the OSU record books in 2018, and then headed off to the NFL.
Tate Martell signed in 2017. He redshirted, then saw action situationally last fall. Martell transferred after news broke that Fields was coming to OSU.
In 2018, Baldwin was the guy. He never took a snap in a regular season game, and just entered the Transfer Portal at the end of his first full year.
The Bucks didn’t sign a quarterback in 2019. Longtime commit Dwan Mathis flipped to Georgia on Early Signing Day, after the “Fields to OSU” rumors picked up steam.
That’s six recruiting classes that yielded exactly one season of starting quarterbacks. None of the six even made it to their fourth season in the program.
Grad transfers are certainly going to be a short-term solution, but the Buckeyes need to find a way to establish some long-term stability in that quarterback room.
That may involve a philosophical change in the way they approach the position.
Collier was from Georgia, Haskins from Maryland, Martell from Nevada, Baldwin from Texas, Mathis from Michigan. Only Burrow played his high school ball in Ohio.
Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about taking a second quarterback every couple years. By all means, continue chasing the national stars like 2020 commit Jack Miller from Arizona or 2021 recruit Kyle McCord from Pennsylvania.
But think about adding in an Ohio quarterback every other year. There may be years when there isn’t a good fit, but the state produces enough football talent that they should be able to make a run at a capable QB every couple seasons.
How different would the current roster look if they had pursued 4-star 2019 QB Connor Bazelak, who signed with Missouri? Or gotten in earlier on 3-star 2018 prospect Chase Wolf, who signed with Wisconsin? Or 4-star 2017 QB Sean Clifford, who is likely going to start for Penn State this fall? Add any one of those to this year’s team, and the depth chart is back up at a “not ideal, but livable” three scholarship guys.
At this point, just steal a solid 3-star from a MAC program every couple years, with the promise of an OSU education, the chance to be a Buckeye, and potentially compete for playing time in a couple years.
An in-state player is more likely to stick around than a guy from 1,000 miles away, simply because distance from home is one less thing to lose him over, and a kid who grew up dreaming of playing in the Horseshoe may be more likely to spend an extra year or two to make that dream come true.
And if he’s not coming in with “5-star expectations” then that’s one more reason he might be more willing to wait things out.
This likely won’t be an easy sell with a lot of recruits because quarterbacks like being “the guy” in their class.
But Alabama has shifted to this model. They signed two QBs for the 2019 class, both from within their home state. They signed a pair of quarterbacks in 2017 as well. It can be done.
The solution to Ohio State’s quarterback depth issue may be simpler than it seems, and close to home as well.