In 2015, redshirt junior Cardale Jones and then-redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett were firmly No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. It was a matter of who would win the job.
But there was another quarterback behind them.
Enter sophomore Joe Burrow who is now the most likely among potential candidates to serve as backup to starting quarterback Barrett this season.
In the spring, the race appeared to be a much more tightly contested battle between Burrow and redshirt junior Stephen Collier. But a season-ending ACL tear to Collier gave Burrow his opportunity in the spring game.
In his first action with the Buckeyes, Burrow led the Gray team to victory while impressing the crowd of 100,000-plus with 196 passing yards for three touchdowns.
“I took a big step this spring,” Burrow said following the spring game. “And I’m going to have to take a big one before fall camp.”
Freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins arrived on campus in June for the summer to battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. At least in the eyes of quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck, Burrow is viewed as the favorite.
“That battle is moving along,” Beck said. “I think Joe is ahead because of his experience. I’m really pleased by his development right now.”
Coach Urban Meyer knows better than anyone that a consistent backup quarterback is a vital piece in the team’s success.
In Meyer’s first season with OSU in 2012, then-quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a shoulder injury in a home game against Purdue. Backup Kenny Guiton stepped in to deliver an improbable come-from-behind victory to preserve an undefeated season.
In 2014, Barrett took over the starting role just a couple weeks before the first game when Miller reinjured his shoulder. Barrett racked up the Big Ten offensive player of the year accolade and then was replaced by Jones who led the team the rest of the way to a national title.
The No. 2 quarterback must constantly be prepared to enter into the game and perform at an adequate level once called upon or his team could suffer for it. At the moment, Burrow said he’s still making strides to get to that level.
“The backup’s job is to be ready at any moment, and if I’m not ready then I’m not doing my job,” Burrow said. “I’m not ready yet.”
There are many things a quarterback must do to prepare for this situation. As Burrow has noted, it is important that to be ready, he must put in “more reps, more studying, just everything” to be sure he is ready to get in the game should he receive the call.
“After spring, I still had a lot to prove and I still have a lot to get better,” Burrow. “I think it was like the second scrimmage in the spring when I threw three or four touchdowns. That’s when I knew I could play here and play here at a high level.”
A big part of his preparation process is to learn from the veterans on the team. That starts with taking notes from Barrett.
“(Barrett’s) really understanding and he’s a really smart guy,” Burrow said. “How he goes about the game, how he watches film, how he takes notes, how he reads the defense.”
Of course as exciting as Barrett is, many have been waiting to see what the new guy brings to the table. 247sports.com ranked the four-star Burrow 305th best of all class of 2015 prospects and 14th best in the state of Ohio. Of course, acquiring the nickname “Mr. Football” in the state of Ohio has done little to lessen the excitement.
But despite all the hype from evaluators, he has somehow flown under the radar. To Burrow, this has not been a hinderance, but rather something to help his performance.
“From the start in high school recruiting, I was under the radar from Athens, Ohio,” Burrow said. “That’s how I kind of played my entire career. I played with a chip on my shoulder.”
From a scouting perspective, Burrow is not the typical college-style quarterback. Instead of a dual threat like Barrett, Burrow has been described as a ‘Pro-Style Quarterback’ by 247sports, and most evaluators agree that his legs are not as much of a threat as most other college signal-callers.
This is further enhanced by his stats from high school. Between 2012 and 2013, Burrow accumulated 94 touchdowns and 6,971 yards while completing 420 passes in 631 attempts. In that time span, Burrow attempted 262 rushing attempts and racked up 1,425 rushing yards, an average of 5.44 yards per carry, a modest average for most high school quarterbacks.
“No, I can’t be a run-first guy,” Burrow said. “I could break one for maybe 15 or 20, but I won’t break one for 40, 50 or 60. I can be effective, but I can’t break a big one.”
Burrow and the rest of the OSU football team will take on Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at noon.