The lack of depth at the quarterback position loomed over the program like a black cloud waiting to burst at any moment last season.
Luckily for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and his Buckeyes, starting quarterback Justin Fields remained relatively healthy throughout the season, rendering that lack of depth a non-issue.
But as Fields prepares for what is widely assumed to be his final season at Ohio State, addressing the future of the position was a critical component of Day’s 2020 recruiting class, his first full class as a head coach. To do so, Day signed multiple highly-touted quarterbacks in Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud, both of whom are already enrolled in school and taking part in winter workouts.
While both quarterbacks hail from the southwest —Miller from Scottsdale, Arizona, and Stroud from Rancho Cucamonga, California — and crossed paths at The Opening last summer, the two took very different paths to get to Columbus.
Miller’s recruitment took off early, and he was among the highest-ranked quarterbacks in the class before his junior season even began. Day hand-picked Miller early on in the process and his commitment to Ohio State in the summer of 2018 signaled a bright future ahead for the Buckeye quarterback position.
But the unforeseen depth struggle that resulted from the increasing popularity of the transfer portal forced Day to find a second quarterback to add to the 2020 class and little time to identify that second addition.
Stroud didn’t hold a scholarship offer from Ohio State heading into his senior season as he continued to fly under the radar for a lot of programs. That changed quickly, however, as Stroud built off an impressive performance at The Opening over the summer to turn in a monster senior season that began to earn him attention from all over the country.
Included in that group whose focus shifted to Stroud after The Opening was Day, who was still looking to add a second quarterback, and Stroud received his offer from Ohio State in October. It didn’t take long after the offer was extended for the Buckeyes to emerge as the favorite to land Stroud, despite Miller already being in the class.
Both signal-callers signed their Letters of Intent on Early Signing Day on Dec. 18 to officially become Buckeyes. In doing so, what was once a team weakness quickly turned into a talent-filled strength, albeit with plenty of room for development.
In the current climate of college football, where coaches are doing well to hold on to two quarterbacks already on the roster, signing two highly-regarded recruits in the same class may seem like risky business. However, both Miller and Stroud aren’t thinking about anything other than the healthy competition that will ensue once practice begins.
“I never really thought it was a big deal,” Miller said of the addition of Stroud. “I think we’re both here for the same goal. We want to win a national championship here and that’s going to be the goal, whatever it takes. If (C.J.) is the guy, if I’m the guy, it doesn’t matter. We’re both just going to work our tails off and do whatever we can for the team.”
Miller downplayed any chance of there being friction between the two as they both work toward the same endgame of starting for the Buckeyes.
“I think it’s a good balance (between competition and friendship) … It’s a friendly competition and we’re cool with each other,” Miller said. “There isn’t a beef, as some would say.”
Stroud echoed that sentiment, saying, “Jack and I, we often hang out, we go out to eat all the time, and we’re brothers. We compete every day but it’s all love and part of the brotherhood.”
Some questioned Miller’s commitment to Ohio State following the news of Ohio State’s pursuit of Stroud. Miller denied ever reconsidering his college destination, however. In fact, the addition of Stroud only strengthened Miller’s desire to end up at Ohio State.
“Because I really enjoy the competition,” Miller said when asked why he stayed true to his commitment. “I was committed here for two years and I never really wavered, never really thought about going anywhere else. I’ve always known this was the place for me.”
Miller said the Ohio State staff was “very good” about being upfront with him as they pursued a second quarterback.
For Stroud, who acknowledged the situation surrounding his and Miller’s recruitment isn’t “normal,” Miller’s position in the class didn’t impact his decision at all, he said. Instead, he relied on his faith and where he felt he was supposed to be to guide his decision.
“I didn’t base my decision off of someone else, I based my decision off of where God wanted me to go,” Stroud said. “I prayed about it, and I’ve always had that feeling since I first got here that Ohio State was the place for me.”
Now that they’re both in Columbus, the questions about the oddities of their recruitments will soon switch to evaluations of their readiness to lead the program should Fields go down. With no quarterback behind Fields having ever started a college football game, the freshmen will be firmly in the mix to win the backup job as soon as spring practice begins next month.
Miller, who missed almost all of his final two seasons in high school due to injury, said he is rearing to get on the field and begin competing again.
“I really haven’t gotten to play a lot of football these last two years and it’s kind of all been bottled up … I’m just ready to go,” he said.
Asked what his expectations are for his freshman season, Stroud said he’s focused on learning the playbook, “being a sponge” when he’s around the other quarterbacks, and being ready whenever his number may be called.