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Monday, October 25, 2021

Who is C.J. Stroud? Meet Ohio State’s new QB1 replacing Justin Fields

Replacing a quarterback like Justin Fields is a tall task for any team, even if that team is Ohio State.

Still, coach Ryan Day found himself in an enviable position of having four dynamic quarterback options from which to choose with C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, Kyle McCord and recent addition Quinn Ewers.

On Aug. 21, Day announced the decision: it would be Stroud, a redshirt freshman, starting against Minnesota on Sept. 2. Stroud had seemed like the most likely QB to get the nod as he had already gained some experience in 2020 and was the first off the bench any time Fields was injured. But college football fans might not know too much about the new starter at Ohio State.

Pro-style quarterback

Ohio State made the most of Fields’ speed during his tenure as the signal-caller for the team. Stroud, though mobile, won’t offer the same dynamic play-making ability with his legs.

Though his lone touchdown is a rushing score — a 48-yard rush on Dec. 5 against Michigan State — Stroud came out of high school as a pro-style quarterback, known more for his arm and his ability to make accurate passes.

He put his arm much more on display in the 2021 Spring Game. Stroud completed 16-of-22 passes for 185 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He rushed twice for three yards.

That statline about sums up what to expect from Stroud, though it won’t be a surprise to see him run more often than twice in a game. When he was in high school, Stroud told the Daily Bulletin in 2019 that he prefers spread and West Coast offenses.

“The biggest fit for me, all in all for school, football, of course, but having a good relationship with my head coach, learning how to be a man from those guys,” Stroud told the Daily Bulletin. I need to be in the right place where they’re going to brand me for what I want to do after football.”

Rise in recruiting

When Stroud joined Ohio State, 247Sports listed him as a five-star quarterback, the No. 2 pro-style, fourth-best overall prospect in the state of California and No. 29 recruit in the nation.

That was not always the case. Stroud was listed as just a three-star prospect before the start of his senior year. The Rancho Cucamonga High starting quarterback had only received offers from a few Pac-12 schools after he was a starter in his first season as a junior.

That offseason was the first start in his ascension. He made a statement with a big performance during the Elite 11 Finals, where he played alongside other top recruits and ultimately was named the MVP of the event. Stroud then tore apart the competition in his final year at Rancho Cucamonga when he posted 3,878 passing yards and 47 passing touchdowns in 13 games of action. Across 754 career passes in high school, only 15 were picked off.

“The accuracy that they talked about at the Elite 11, that’s what he did all the time with us,” Mark Verti, Stroud’s high school coach, told The Athletic. “That’s what college coaches said when they came to look at him, almost every ball is being caught or every ball that’s being thrown is catchable. It’s not a bullet, but they’re catchable balls that get there in the right spot at the right time.”

Stroud was offered by Ohio State on Oct. 8, 2019, and committed and signed with Ohio State on Dec. 18 the same year. He early enrolled on Jan. 6.

What should expectations be for 2021?

The Buckeyes are entering the season ranked fourth overall in the AP Top 25. They’ve made the College Football Playoff in each of the past two seasons. 

The expectations from the fans and college football world can simply be summed up as making the team a national championship contender. No pressure, right?

Stroud is fortunate to be beginning his college football career on a team that is loaded with offensive weapons. Wilson and Chris Olave look like they could be NFL first-rounders at wide receiver, and Julian Fleming, Jeremy Ruckert and Jaxon Smith-Njigba give him three more outstanding receiving options. Miyan Williams and Master Teague are poised to be two powerful running backs next to him. Harry Miller, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere are returning starters on the offensive line, while Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones each gained experience in 2020 and will be impact talents on the line.

While Ohio State has the supporting cast around him, Stroud being named the starter means the offense will still look considerably different from past years. Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Fields were dual-threat quarterbacks. The most recent two pro-style QBs were Cardale Jones and Dwayne Haskins. Jones guided the Buckeyes through the 2014 Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff — ending with their national championship win — but struggled when splitting starting duties with Barrett in 2015 as he finished with a completion percentage of just 62.3 percent for 1,459 yards and eight passing touchdowns to five interceptions.

Haskins, however, was a star under center in 2018. He completed 70 percent of his passes with 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Stroud should fit somewhere between Fields and Haskins in terms of what he will bring to the table. He doesn’t quite have the same power arm that Haskins has, but he is more mobile and should at least be a factor in the running game. Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson compared him to Russell Wilson.

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