Ohio State fans are eager to hear whom coach Urban Meyer will name the starting quarterback headed toward the fall, but imagine being in those quarterbacks’ shoes as the wait continues.
Stanley Jackson doesn’t have to imagine. Neither does Kirk Herbstreit. They dealt with similar angst while at Ohio State, Herbstreit being told Kent Graham had the job in 1991 after a spirited competition and Jackson being named the starter over Joe Germaine in 1996.
Now junior Joe Burrow, sophomore Dwayne Haskins Jr. and possibly redshirt freshman Tate Martell are waiting to hear who will succeed four-year starter J.T. Barrett.
“It’s very tough, it’s nerve-wracking,” said Jackson, an analyst locally for WXZX radio and for the Big Ten Network. “There’s a lot of pressure because everything you do is being highly scrutinized.
“The reality is, those guys don’t realize that once you’re named starting quarterback it gets worse. But it is a difficult position to be in, especially when the other guy can play, and you want to be honest about yourself and your position.”
Herbstreit, a long-time analyst for ESPN, got the tough news in 1991 from coach John Cooper. Though crestfallen, he stuck around and became the starter as a senior in 1992. Herbstreit brought that up, because he’s heard the talk just like everyone that should Burrow not be named No. 1, he might transfer.
“The first sign of, ‘We’re going to go with this guy instead of you,’ in the old days guys just dug in a little harder,” Herbstreit said. “It didn’t cross your mind to transfer. … But the last 10 years, this position, and the way recruiting services have changed the game with the notoriety, these guys look at it like college is a pit stop to the NFL. ‘If I’m not gonna start, I’m going somewhere where I can start.’
“Again, I’m talking in general terms; I’m not saying that applies to these two guys because I don’t know them that well yet. I am painting the position with a broad brush.”
At Alabama, Jalen Hurts was the starter the past two seasons, but coach Nick Saban turned to freshman Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the national title game in January and he saved the day. Now Hurts is indicating he will leave if he is not the starter.
“Boy, you want to get Nick Saban fired up, ask him, ‘Who’s your guy?’ because he knows as soon as he declares, ‘We’re going with this guy,’ there’s a really good chance that other guy is gone,” Herbstreit said.
“I don’t know what Urban is going to do, but I know that’s in the back of the mind of coaches, ‘Let me try to keep this a 1A, 1B all the way to maybe week one of the season, week two, let it play itself out. … Hopefully it will be so clear, one will win the team over.’”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is in the midst of it. He’s trying to delineate probably between Haskins and Burrow, though last week he refused to eliminate Martell from the discussion. Day was in their shoes while a quarterback at New Hampshire under offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.
“We had some good meetings when I was able to go play, and we had some other meetings when I was younger where I was told I had to work a little harder,” Day said. “I did, and it worked out well for me.”
He knows everybody has feelings, but Day said he learned while playing for Kelly and working under him in the NFL there’s no sugarcoating the decision.
“You just want to make sure you are straightforward, you’re honest, and you’re giving them the facts,” Day said. “You always have things to work on, things to improve on, your strengths and weaknesses, so that’s how we’ll do it.”
When it is as close as Meyer and Day have indicated the 2018 competition is, though, it usually comes down to a gut decision by the head coach. So it was for Cooper when he was dealing with Graham-Herbstreit and Jackson-Germaine.
“It’s tough to tell a guy somebody is going to start ahead of you,” Cooper said. “But for the head coach it always boils down to ‘Who gives us the better chance to win?’ "