In its current quarterback room, Ohio State has a Heisman Trophy finalist, a two-time Gatorade national player of the year and a player handpicked by the soon-to-be head coach.
But the quarterback who has Twitter abuzz is someone who didn’t consider signing with the Buckeyes a year ago and is practicing with Georgia as it prepares for the Sugar Bowl.
So who is Justin Fields, and what makes him so intriguing?
“A tremendous talent,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “Anyone who gets him should be incredibly excited about what he can possibly bring to your football team.”
This week, Fields entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal, which allows other programs to recruit him. According to several outlets citing unnamed sources, Ohio State is at or near the top of the list of potential destinations along with Oklahoma. Fields reportedly is enamored of the idea of playing for Ryan Day, who takes over as head coach on Jan. 2 and helped Dwayne Haskins Jr. develop into a record-breaking quarterback this season.
Ohio State football spokesman Jerry Emig said he was not aware if Ohio State had interest in Fields.
Fields, 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 247Sports 2018 composite rankings. He signed with Georgia hoping he could unseat Jake Fromm, who led the Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff final last year as a freshman. But Fromm kept the starting job, and Fields apparently is looking for a fresh start.
“On the high-school level, he could slow things down and do things his peers really couldn’t,” Wiltfong said. “He’s accurate to all levels of the field. He sees the field well. He’s a good decision-maker and on top of that, he can run. He’s your perfect dual-threat guy on paper.”
What can’t be known until he does it, Wiltfong said, is whether Fields can transfer that to the college level and exhibit the leadership and other intangibles required of the position.
Fields could decide to stay at Georgia. If he transfers, he would be subject to the NCAA transfer rule that requires players to sit out one year. But the bar for getting a waiver from that requirement has gotten lower and lower.
A waiver in Fields’ case could be based on a racial slur directed at him by a Georgia baseball player during the Bulldogs’ game Sept. 29 against Tennessee. The transfer rule takes into account mitigating circumstances that “directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”
Several factors will affect Fields’ decision and Ohio State’s interest in pursuing him. The most pressing is Haskins’ decision whether to leave for the NFL. He is projected as a first-round pick.
Then there is Tate Martell, who could decide to transfer if Fields comes aboard — or if Haskins stays. Martell is a dual-threat quarterback who fits Urban Meyer’s spread offense. How much the offense changes with Day as the head coach remains to be seen.
Martell has overcome doubts about his size — he is listed as 5-11 — throughout his career, twice winning national player of the year honors at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.
“He’s as competitive as you’re going to get at the position,” Wiltfong said. “He won a lot of big games in high school. He embraced the microscope that was on him and performed.”
Also looking for his shot is Matthew Baldwin, who was recruited by Day last year. Baldwin redshirted in 2018 while he rehabbed from knee surgery.
“I think he’s interesting,” Wiltfong said of Baldwin. “He’s definitely not just there to carry somebody’s briefcase.”
One way or another, a resolution likely will come within a couple of weeks. Ohio State’s spring semester starts Jan. 7.