Entering spring practice before the 2011 season, the Ohio State football team had five quarterbacks — and one huge cloud over the program.
Just three quarterbacks from that group ended up graduating from OSU after Terrelle Pryor left for the NFL and Taylor Graham transferred to Hawaii.
Four years later, the Buckeyes have six quarterbacks on their roster and most believe they will all stick around and battle for a starting spot.
OSU coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeye coaching staff lured in recruits Joe Burrow and Torrance Gibson despite a stable of signal callers that includes multiple award winners. Two-time Big Ten Player of the Year senior Braxton Miller, 2014 Big Ten Quarterback of the Year redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett and national champion starter redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones are all set to return to a roster that won OSU its first national title since 2002.
Meyer said Wednesday that his pitch to Gibson specifically was simple.
“The thing I asked Torrance is, ‘Don’t penalize us because our guys play real well,’” Meyer said. “Everybody has three or four quarterbacks. If you don’t, you’re struggling. Our three or four happen to play really well. Don’t hold that against us. Come compete for the spot.”
Meyer added that getting Gibson to come to Columbus was not an open and shut case despite Gibson having verbally committed to the Buckeyes in September.
“There are those that tear up and say, ‘My grandfather knew Woody Hayes, and I want to play for Ohio State, where do I sign?’ The others, if you put a stopwatch on the time you’ve spent with them, it’s out of control,” Meyer said. “The amount of time on Torrance was ridiculous, but he seemed always to be a natural fit offensively. And he liked the way Ohio State did their stuff.”
Meyer made a point to thank now-former OSU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman — who took over the head coaching job at the University of Houston after the national title game — for his effort in bringing in the highly recruited players.
Also giving credit to Herman was his replacement, Tim Beck, who said while he hasn’t had a chance to work with the quarterbacks yet, he cannot wait to get started.
“It’s an interesting group. The little bit I’ve been around them, great young men, hard working. There’s a tremendous bond among all three of them (Miller, Barrett and Jones), which is a great tribute to Tom, what he was able to put together,” Beck said. “They compete hard, because they want to win and they want to play. But they also help each other.”
While players like Miller, Barrett and Jones have set the bar high for the quarterback play at OSU, Beck said he believes both Burrow and Gibson have similar capabilities.
“Joe, Torrance, they’re no different,” Beck said. “They’re going to have to come in and learn and improve and maybe do a couple of things different than what they’ve normally done.”
In their senior seasons, Burrow threw for 4,445 passing yards and 63 aerial scores while adding 642 rush yards, and Gibson threw for 1,959 yards and 21 pass touchdowns, in addition to 1,012 rushing yards and 13 rushing scores.
Combined, the prospects threw just five interceptions in their high school senior seasons.
While the coaches might or might not have an idea who will be under center when the Buckeyes open the 2015 season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, Beck said there is one particular quality that could determine a starter.
“Winning. They’ve got to win. If they’re making the players around them better, they’re doing the right things, getting the ball to the right guys at the right time, getting us the right pressure, we’re probably going to be winning,” Beck said. “So that’s how you’re able to evaluate the production of a quarterback. It’s the offense, it’s not always him or his statistics.”
Whoever the quarterback is for the Buckeyes this fall, there will be experience and talent around them.
OSU is set to return sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott to the backfield and added four-star running back Mike Weber to its recruiting class on Wednesday.
Meyer said no matter what the position, he likes to create a competitive atmosphere on more than just the football field.
“We try to create competition in everything, from the classroom to the offseason workout to the summer workouts and obviously during spring and summer,” he said.
The winner of the quarterback competition and the Buckeyes are set to open the 2015 season against Virginia Tech.