The Buckeyes have had eight multi-year starting quarterbacks over the past 20-plus years, going back through the 1999 season and CJ Stroud, barring something unforeseen will make the ninth over the span of 23 seasons.
Some names have very familiar pages in the Ohio State history books including Justin Fields, JT Barrett, Braxton Miller and Craig Krenzel. Some have a major ‘what if’ like Terrelle Pryor while others may not be visited as much with Todd Boeckman, Justin Zwick and Steve Bellisari filling out the ranks.
Before we get much further, it is hard to do a true apples-to-apples comparison of quarterback-to-quarterback with the nature of rosters, head coaches and the evolution of the game. Bellisari threw the ball 220 times in the 2001 season, just about half of the 441 attempts that Stroud had in the recently completed 2021 season.
Stroud’s 44 passing touchdowns in 2021 were almost equal to two seasons of Pryor throwing the ball in 2009 and 2010 (45). But yes, Pryor did run the ball significantly more than we have seen Stroud tuck the ball and go.
Honestly, the first place that you would look in trying to find the closest comparison for Stroud would be to Fields, but 2020 was, well… 2020, and the Buckeyes only played eight games that season and was never sure who was going to take the field from week-to-week.
Breaking down the numbers on a per game basis (since you can’t compare a 14-game season to an eight-game season for overall numbers) Fields attempted and completed about three more passes per game and saw his overall completion percentage go up from 67.2-percent to 70.2-percent. That bump also came with almost 28 more yards per game in year two with a slight drop in touchdowns (down .18). The only real number that suffered was Fields’ interceptions when went from three over 14 games to six over eight games.
It is more difficult to extrapolate anything from Barrett or Miller. Neither were the same type of quarterback that Stroud is and even though 2017, the final year of Barrett, is not that far away, the Buckeyes have gone through a head coaching change and make no mistake that this is a passing quarterback’s offense today.
Only Fields has a 70-percent completion season on the board along with Stroud outside of Justin Zwick’s 2005 season, a year where Zwick kicked off the year as the starter before Troy Smith was rightfully inserted into the lineup, and we know what happened from there. Zwick would play in a mop-up role as he played in seven games over the course of the year and only was credited with one touchdown, in the opener against Miami (Ohio).
Granted, a look at the history book shows that Stroud’s .719 completion rate is a school record and only the third in school history to break the .700 mark (Fields & Dwayne Haskins are the other two, Zwick’s 2005 season did not qualify).
Is there always improvement?
For the most part, every quarterback who finished their second (or third) season as starter saw an improvement in completion percentage from year one or at worst maintained the number outside of Krenzel who saw a slight regression in 2003, but are you really going to knock a national champion?
Even with seeing improvement from most of the multi-year starters from the first year to beyond, should we expect to see an Ohio State offense that throw the ball more? Stroud threw the ball 441 times, more than any other quarterback on the list, by a good amount. Even though Stroud did not play in a lot of 4th quarters, he still threw almost 41-percent of his pass attempts in the second half of games with 32 second half attempts against Oregon, 24 against Nebraska 28 against Michigan and 27 against Utah.
Could an even more prolific offense coupled with a more complete defense limit Stroud’s second half numbers that much more? Could a more consistent run game for the Buckeyes take away the need to throw the ball as much?
One thing that could help the numbers is the fact that Stroud only played in 12 games last season, missing the Akron game with a shoulder injury. The hope would be that Ohio State’s 13-game schedule of 2021 would swell to as many as 15 games in 2022 if the Buckeyes were to play in a conference championship game along with two rounds of the College Football Playoff.
Could 50 touchdowns be in reach? While Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are gone, we know what Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. are capable of, and have seen some glimpses of Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, and that is assuming that nobody else breaks out next season as well.
If Stroud stayed at the “same” touchdown per game clip and played 15 games, he would shatter the school record with 55 touchdowns. If Ohio State only plays 14 games, he would still break the mark at 51, and this is without showing improvement, just by playing more games.
What can we really expect?
2021 was a special season for Stroud and sometimes it is just difficult to improve when you have already risen to such heights. It is much simpler to rise from being a 58-percent passer to a 63-percent passer than it is to go from 72-percent to 77-percent.
Stroud did not break the 66-percent mark until the Rutgers game during the season and only fell below 66-percent passing just one time after that, the Penn State game.
Is Alabama’s Mac Jones’ mark of 77.4-percent passing in 2020 in reach? Stroud’s 71.9-perecent mark is good to be tied for 27th with Kedon Slovis (2019) and Brandon Doughty (2015).
Braxton Miller went up five-percent from 2012 to 2013, Terrelle Pryor went up more than eight-percent. But both of those quarterbacks started in the upper-50s and moved into the 60s.
One thing that we do know is that Stroud is focused on making 2022 his year. After finishing a distant fourth in the Heisman voting, Stroud vowed to use that as fuel to have an even better 2022 than 2021. And 2021 wasn’t half bad.
While the numbers from previous multi-year starers don’t contain any definite trends and while it is impossible to compare numbers from 20-plus years ago against today’s number, it is safe to say that Stroud is going to give the nation a run for their money.
And would you bet against him?