COLUMBUS, Ohio — Over 20 years have passed since a Big Ten quarterback who did not play for Ohio State football graced the Heisman Trophy stage.
Iowa’s Brad Banks finished runner-up to USC’s Carson Palmer in 2002. Since then, the highest a non-Buckeye quarterback from the Big Ten has finished in the voting for sports’ most hallowed award is fifth. Only four have finished in the top 10.
Lincoln Riley will soon give Ryan Day some competition for his side hustle as a travel agent arranging mid-December trips to New York. Over the past six seasons, Riley has overseen three Heisman winners and one finalist. Lest that seemed like a Big 12-specific phenomenon, the former Oklahoma coach took his system (and his quarterback) to USC and guided Caleb Williams to another victory.
Recommended Buckeyes stories
• Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud says two Michigan losses kept him from matching Archie Griffin’s Heisman legacy
• C.J. Stroud said he regrets not running more at Ohio State
• C.J. Stroud really considered staying at Ohio State one more season
In 2024, Riley will be in the Big Ten, jump-starting a mini quarterback renaissance in the league that has only recently begun to catch up to the Buckeyes.
In 2023, Williams could be waiting for OSU in a playoff game. So could other high profile quarterbacks, such as Washington’s MIchael Penix Jr. or North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Williams’ national-caliber playmaking, though, has been confirmed and documented.
The Buckeyes need their answer, and this spring, they will be working on deciding whether Kyle McCord or Devin Brown best represents that standard.
This is, after all, what first-time starting quarterbacks do under Day.
• He was only the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in 2018 when Dwayne Haskins redefined passing offense at Ohio State. He threw for 4,831 yards and 48 touchdowns. He became the first Buckeye to go to New York as a Heisman finalist since Troy Smith won in 2006.
• Justin Fields transferred in to replace Haskins and became one of six Buckeyes to finish in the top six of the voting in 2019. He finished third in the nation behind LSU’s Joe Burrow and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts (coached by Riley) in pass efficiency rating.
• C.J. Stroud’s 2021 candidacy looked shaky a couple of games in. He healed up and responded by leading Power 5 quarterbacks in efficieny rating and yards per attempt and finishing second in touchdown passes.
All of them made the Heisman finalist stage in their first seasons. That is the standard by which McCord and Brown will be judged.
McCord has prepared for this eventuality daily for the past two seasons. Safety Ronnie Hickman sopoke up on his behalf at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this week. He described him as a quarterback who can “sling it” and distribute accurately. Those were the attributes which made Stroud a late-season Heisman front-runner each of the past two seasons.
McCord has also been exposed to more public scrutiny at this point. Brown operates from the enviable position of lower expectations. It is not his job to lose, but he was recruited precisely because OSU wanted another starting-caliber quarterback for this fall.
Day said he is open to naming a starter by the end of the spring, but did not commit to it. The winner will operate with an abundance of weapons at his disposal. The Buckeyes, though, must also make strides towards filling huge holes on the offensive line and finding some stability in the running game.
History suggests the winner of this battle should immediately rise up among the favorites to end up where Stroud and Williams did on the Heisman stage. They cannot get there alone, though.
If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Program Gambling Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522-4700 or visit 1800gambler.net for more information. 21+ and present in Ohio. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-Gambler.