Coming off a year in which he threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns against just six interceptions in his first year as a starter, it would be fair to wonder just how much Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud can improve statistically on what was an all-time great season.
Stroud’s 2021 total passing yardage and touchdowns both rank second in Big Ten history behind only Dwayne Haskins’ remarkable 2018 campaign, and his 573-yard performance in January’s Rose Bowl victory over Utah is a bowl and program record. For his efforts, Stroud was named the conference’s Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year and went to New York as a Heisman finalist last December.
Despite all of the awards and rewriting of the history books, however, Stroud would argue there is plenty more left to be done. In fact, Stroud would even go as far as to say he didn’t really accomplish much of anything a season ago, particularly given the team’s shortcomings.
“Honestly, I don’t really feel like I really did a lot,” Stroud said during Wednesday’s Big Ten Media Day. “I feel like I barely touched my potential, and I feel like I can do a lot more. Hopefully, God blesses me with that opportunity, and I’m working toward that. That’s my motivation. The reason I play football is to dominate. I just love the feeling of dominating somebody, and I think that’s the nature of football.”
Even for Stroud, who has never been short on humility since taking over for Justin Fields last winter, such a characterization of last season is nothing short of a gross undervaluation of one of the better seasons ever compiled in the storied history of Ohio State football. At the same time, however, head coach Ryan Day said it’s that general dissatisfaction and hunger to do more that makes Stroud the elite talent he has emerged to be in relatively short order.
“To say he accomplished nothing last year, that’s not accurate, but that’s his approach,” Day said on Wednesday. “I think that’s what makes him great, and I respect that about him. He did a lot of great things last year, but I think his best football is ahead of him.”
Now with 13 games full of moments, both good and bad, to draw from, Stroud heads into the season armed with the one thing he’s ever lacked since arriving in Columbus — experience. Naturally, Stroud believes that experience has helped him to simplify his game and become more comfortable in his responsibilities to the team.
Stroud said of his approach this season, “Not doing too much, not being extra, not trying to make crazy plays. Just doing the right things the right way, and then when it’s time to make a play, make a play. I definitely feel like that’s the mindset that I have now.”
Of course, for a team that lacked leadership a year ago, Stroud’s strides in that regard will also be of the utmost importance as Ohio State aims to get back to the College Football Playoff. Fortunately for Stroud, leadership both on and off the field has always come easily to him, and he won’t shy away from the expectations of that particular position at a place like Ohio State.
“For me, I think I’m a natural-born leader,” he said. “I think I’ve been called to be a leader, not just in football, but as a man of God. So it wasn’t ever anything new. I was doing this stuff freshman year, it’s just that now it kind of gets a little more talked about, which I understand.
“I definitely think that prepared me to be more of a leader. Of course, as a quarterback, you’re always the guy, but when you come to a place like Ohio State, you have millions of people who love Ohio State, love the Buckeyes, and now you’re leading them in a sense as well. I definitely feel that and respect that responsibility, and I try to do my best to be the best that I can be.”