COLUMBUS, Ohio — The quarterback competition at Ohio State has been called a lot of things.
Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow have been neck and neck to be the backup. With a starting job on the line this spring there hasn’t been separation. The battle has been too close to call, or they’ve gone back and forth, depending on the day.
So why would there be any reason to expect the Buckeyes to settle on a starter by the end of spring practice in April?
Eventually, something is going to have to give for the Buckeyes, and there aren’t as many ticks left on the clock as there might normally be this time of year due to Burrow’s ability to graduate and transfer looming over the crucial depth-chart decision. This isn’t an easy process for anybody involved, of course, and it’s understandable why Urban Meyer would want to take his time and choose his words carefully while managing such a delicate situation.
But with just five practices and an exhibition game left for Ohio State, he’s going to have to make a decision soon. And he may have to do it without there being any obvious answer.
“There’s got to be a separation at some point, and right now there is not that separation,” Meyer said Monday. “Just when one starts going, the other one comes up, and the other one drops a little bit. And I’m talking about the three [including Tate Martell].
“I don’t know. I will just worry about Monday’s practice, and now that that’s over, let’s have a good Wednesday. But you wish one would take it, and that has not happened.”
So what happens if nobody claims the throne in the next two weeks? The Ohio State kingdom isn’t going to crumble if it doesn’t name a starter after the spring game. And no matter what happens, the candidates on hand are talented enough to lead the program to a Big Ten championship this season.
But without a firm idea of where they all stand with the Buckeyes, it’s starting to look more challenging to keep all of those knights in scarlet this summer. It’s impossible to know what all of them are thinking and how Meyer establishing a pecking order would impact their futures.
Haskins has been the presumptive favorite since he rescued Ohio State in the comeback victory at Michigan last November. How would he respond if Burrow nudges ahead and sticks around with the Buckeyes?
If Haskins does hold on to that assumed lead but the margin remains razor thin, would Burrow take his chances with a training-camp battle and risk that potential season of eligibility? Is Ohio State’s history with backup quarterbacks being pressed into action enough to persuade Burrow that his best chance to contribute to a championship is by staying put?
How does the ultra-confident, dual-threat Martell fit into that picture? He has publicly talked about coming to win the starting job since the moment he stepped on campus, and waiting for two years may test his patience.
Those are a lot of questions, obviously. And the answers are complicated, hard to pin down and potentially even a little messy for Ohio State.
But the Buckeyes don’t look like they’re going to have the luxury of waiting much longer for a solution to present itself, at least not based on what Meyer is revealing with the majority of spring camp in the rearview mirror. And there’s no reason not to take him at his word. The short-term benefits of possibly misleading Burrow to keep him around would be outweighed in the future by elite recruits at the position seeing how he was treated after years of doing whatever the program asked of him.
One way or another, though, that means Ohio State is running out of time.
“Joe probably had the better scrimmage on Saturday, but then Dwayne came back [strong on Monday],” Meyer said. “… You miss J.T. [Barrett], but early on in spring the void was very obvious. I don’t feel that void as much anymore, and I’m hoping that closes by the time we get to the end of summer.
“I think the quarterback situation you’d wish one would take it, but then again, you like having the day-to-day competition, which is what I’m seeing.”
The Buckeyes are running out of days, though.
Of all the possible outcomes, extending this tight competition for one more camp would have to be the least likely of them all.