Two weeks away from the season opener against Indiana, it is clear who will be under center for the Ohio State football team on the first offensive snap of the season: redshirt senior J.T. Barrett.
But one quarterback race remains contested, and it is for the player who would take the snap should Barrett be unable to play. For a team that won its only national championship in the past 10 years on the strength of a pair of backup quarterbacks, it’s obvious for those competing for the backup spot to see its significance.
However, redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow — one of the two leading candidates for backup quarterback along with redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins — said they understand the role that No. 2 spot played back in 2014, but aren’t letting the potential of being one injury away from the starting role drive them.
“I don’t know if it really motivates us, but it makes us understand that we have to be ready when our number is called and whenever the time comes,” Burrow said.
Haskins added neither expect the same situation as the 2014 season to occur, and said it is important to keep that championship-winning season in mind as any player along the depth chart could be called on at any time to take over behind center.
“(The coaches) always preach about 2014 and just how everybody was ready to play whether it was Braxton or J.T. or Cardale,” Haskins said. “And I mean, all three of us (freshman Tate Martell, Burrow and Haskins) are competing really hard, and if one of us goes in, we are going to root for each other. But the ultimate goal is to be a starter one day so that’s what we’re all competing to be.”
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said the coaching staff evaluates them as if they were going to be the starter this season.
“You want to find the best guy to go on the field whenever that opportunity presents itself, so yeah, you’re using the same criteria,” Day said.
The coaching staff has yet to determine who is going to head into the opener as the backup. Coach Urban Meyer has narrowed the position down to two names, but there is still no clear frontrunner between the pair, he said.
“I’d say the true backup right now is between Joe (Burrow) and Dwayne (Haskins),” Meyer said. “We have a big scrimmage coming up this Saturday, and that’s going to be a huge part of (the decision process).”
Meyer added though Martell has looked the part of a potentially electric quarterback, he is still learning more about Ohio State’s offense and is currently behind Burrow and Haskins.
A season ago, Burrow ran away with the job seemingly uncontested as Haskins redshirted his true freshman campaign.
Burrow made appearances in six games over the year, connecting on 22-of-28 pass attempts and finishing with 226 passing yards and two touchdown passes. He also had 12 carries, compiling 66 yards including a rushing touchdown.
Burrow said last season gave him a chance to learn more about the offense. However, he added he does not expect his experience in the role to be a major factor in his competition with Haskins to play a major role in the race for the backup quarterback.
“I didn’t play that much; threw 28 passes,” Burrow said. “Really just scrimmages and practices from camp will determine it, I think.”
The two have seemingly been locked in a battle against one another since the end of the 2016 season. Haskins and Burrow were the two starters in the spring game where both made their case to be Barrett’s backup.
Burrow finished 14-for-22 passing with 262 yards and three touchdowns, while Haskins accumulated 293 yards on 26-of-37 passes with three touchdowns.
The spring game is certainly not the end-all-be-all for evaluating talent, yet those performances yielded an intriguing story line entering Barrett’s final season.
“What we’re doing is competing with J.T. every day,” Haskins said. “So I mean you go to Ohio State and you think about (2006 Heisman Trophy winner) Troy Smith and everybody else that played quarterback here. It’s like what’s the standard, and that’s what you try to compete with everyday.”
Because at the end of the day, no quarterback joins a school hoping to play second fiddle their entire career. Neither Burrow nor Haskins would like to be a backup for the rest of their playing days at Ohio State, and at least one of the two could get a chance as the starter as early as next season.
While the winner of the backup battle in 2017 could emerge as the frontrunner for the starting gig in 2018, the two said their eyes are fixed solely on the season ahead of them.
“I’m not even thinking about next year right now,” Haskins said. “This is important for this season to be ready when my number is called when coach Meyers says to be prepared.”