The Ohio State schedule this year sets things up as almost two separate seasons.
The Buckeyes play six games before their first open date, then they play two more games before their second open date. The season then concludes with games against Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, and Michigan.
Former OSU head coach Jim Tressel used to say that September was for pretenders and November was for contenders. While that saying still resonates, September for the Buckeyes this year will be about their starting quarterback getting his feet under him.
There will be six quarterbacks on the Ohio State roster this season, none of whom were on the roster at this time a year ago.
Of those six quarterbacks, three will be on scholarship, and all three have arrived as transfers.
Chris Chugunov is in his final season with the Buckeyes, having transferred from West Virginia last year. Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak will have two years to play for the Buckeyes. Justin Fields, meanwhile, will have three years remaining, having transferred from Georgia following his true freshman season last year.
Chugunov is the only quarterback on the roster who has ever started a game. His starts came at the end of the season in 2017 when WVU starting quarterback Will Grier was lost due to injury.
Neither Hoak or Fields have thrown more than nine passes in any single game.
The lack of experience and production at quarterback is not unusual, but the complete roster turnover is definitely unique.
“Yeah, the quarterback room, there’s not a guy in that room that was on the roster last year,” Buckeyes’ head coach Ryan Day said last week in Chicago.
“There’s not in a guy in that room that was on the roster in December, other than Chris Chugunov. So it’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar are going to compete like heck to go win the job. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”
While Fields and Hoak prepare themselves in fall camp, the rest of the team will be preparing themselves for the task ahead.
Whoever wins the job will be an inexperienced starter in a brand new offense. They can’t be expected to hit the ground running. The offensive line will need to protect. The running backs will need to run harder. The receivers will have to make plays and build confidence. And the defense can’t afford to get into shootouts — at least not in the first few games while the starting quarterback is growing into some kind of comfort zone.
Day’s point is clear. Until the quarterback is ready to carry the team as many quarterbacks do, he’ll need the entire team to pick up any slack and straighten out his learning curve.
“Our schedule is funny this year,” Day said. “We have six games, a bye week, two games, a bye week, and then we play four games. And so in those first six games, the quarterback is going to be green. He’s not going to have a lot of experience. So the guys around him, our defense, the running game, the receivers on the end, they’ve got to pick up the slack there, and so as we go and grow throughout the season, we kind of get into that middle season hitting our stride on offense.”