As Ohio State opens spring football practice next week, The Dispatch will preview each position group. Today: Quarterbacks.
Returnees: Justin Fields, junior; Gunnar Hoak, graduate
Departures: Chris Chugunov
Early-enrollee freshmen: Jack Miller, C.J. Stroud
Summer enrollees: n/a
There is no quarterback competition this spring at Ohio State. For the first time since J.T. Barrett was entrenched as the starter in 2017, the Buckeyes will not need to identify their starter.
That is due to the presence of Fields, who returns for his junior season as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and among the top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
But the rest of the depth chart is far from settled. Chugunov, who was the backup as a fifth-year senior last fall, is gone, leaving Hoak and two freshmen in place to vie for the No. 2 spot.
It should make for a compelling backup quarterback competition, starting in spring practice and likely to continue into preseason camp in the summer.
On one hand, Hoak has experience and a possible upper hand. He enters his fifth season in college and his second at Ohio State after transferring from Kentucky last year.
Familiarity is no small thing, especially at that position. Quarterbacks have previously remarked on some of the complexities of coach Ryan Day’s offense. Late last season, Day acknowledged that Chugunov’s grasp gave him an edge over Hoak.
"Chris has had two years in the program, so he knows (the offense) better than Gunnar," Day said in November. "Gunnar is getting better. He’s still learning the offense."
This time around, Hoak has more experience.
But Miller and Stroud, the two freshmen who enrolled early for spring practice, were highly ranked recruits out of high school, a sign of natural talent.
The composite rankings from 247Sports had Miller and Stroud as four-star prospects, and Stroud was considered the second-best pro-style quarterback in the class, behind Clemson-bound DJ Uiagalelei.
When Hoak graduated from Dublin Coffman in 2016, he was a three-star recruit and was not offered a scholarship by Ohio State. During that recruiting cycle, the Buckeyes extended scholarships to at least nine other quarterbacks, including future starter Dwayne Haskins Jr.
So there seems to be enough potential in Miller and Stroud to put them in the mix. When Day discussed their signings in December, he said, "The fight for that backup spot next year is real."
Early enrollment should help with their push.
One reason Hoak was challenged last year to surpass Chugunov on the depth chart was due to his later arrival. He transferred after spring practice, giving him fewer offseason practices to acclimate.
Miller and Stroud have the chance to see reps in March and April, timing that could make things interesting.