Suddenly, Scarlet & Gray to have green QB

Rob Oller
In this Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, Georgia quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws a pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee, in Athens, Ga. Fields has transferred to Ohio State, and he awaits an NCAA ruling on whether he will be eligible to play football this fall. [John Bazemore/The Associated Press]

Less than a month removed from Dwayne Haskins Jr. having turned Ohio State into a one-season “Quarterback U.,” the program more resembles “Quarterback Who?”

Meet the only quarterback who has appeared in a game for the Buckeyes: Chris Chugunov.

On Sept. 8, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound graduate transfer from West Virginia went in for the last series against Rutgers. Three handoffs. Chugunov might have a catapult arm like Patrick Mahomes. Or he might be the stapler guy from “Office Space.” It’s hard to tell, considering his limited body of work.

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But with Tate Martell announcing on Wednesday that he is transferring to the University of Miami, the Chugger is one of only two eligible scholarship quarterbacks on the Buckeyes’ roster. The other is redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin, who sat out this past season while rehabilitating from knee surgery after an injury suffered in high school.

Justin Fields, the five-star Georgia transfer, has enrolled in classes, but his eligibility rests in the hands of the NCAA. Even though a ruling in his favor is expected — why risk having to sit a year unless some kind of assurance already is in place? — a waiver is not guaranteed. He is banking on the NCAA agreeing with his position — mainly, that he felt unsafe at Georgia, where during a game he received racial ridicule from a Georgia baseball player who has since been kicked off the team.

I don’t see the NCAA choosing to die on that hill. Rule against Fields and the organization risks appearing soft on racist behavior. Still, the stakes are high for the Buckeyes, who are without a returning starter (Haskins declared for the NFL draft) and backup (Martell). For those smitten with scarlet and gray, that scenario lacks peace.

Fields does have game experience. He played in 12 games as a true freshman for the Bulldogs, completing 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of sophomore Jake Fromm. Not wanting to back up Fromm for another season, Fields entered the transfer portal, which serves as a free-agent pool.

Quarterbacks transferring into and out of Ohio State is nothing new. Joe Burrow left for LSU last summer and became the Tigers’ starter. Nor is QB musical chairs unfamiliar to college football in general; since 2010, 11 of the 16 quarterbacks ranked as five-star recruits by 247Sports transferred from their original schools.

(Aside: Please don’t criticize the QBs; they’re just following the example set by coaches. Two weeks after committing to coach Temple, Manny Diaz “transferred” back to Miami when Hurricanes coach Mark Richt retired. Unlike the majority of players who switch teams, Diaz gained immediate eligibility.)

Different for Ohio State this time is the degree of unknown heading into next season. Entering 2018, the Buckeyes were unsure of what they had in Haskins, but the sample size, while small, was significant. Haskins brought Ohio State from behind to defeat Michigan in 2017 after starter J.T. Barrett left with a knee injury.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day emphasized several times this season that Haskins benefited from watching from the sideline his first two years. But Fields is expected to excel immediately? He better be really good — reports are that he is — because three of the first five games next season (Cincinnati, at Indiana and at Nebraska) are no gimmes.

On the other hand, in losing Martell it’s not like the Buckeyes are losing Tom Brady. Martell attempted (28) and completed (23) fewer passes than Fields this season; he is a novice in his own right.

Regardless of who wins the job, Day and his staff must develop a starting quarterback quickly. It went well with Haskins. Can the Buckeyes make it two for two?


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