Ryan Day created an unrealistic standard; how long can Ohio State’s quarterbacks live up to it?

Published Aug. 03, 2023, 7:08 a.m.
By Stephen Means, cleveland.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ryan Day had a vision of one day turning Ohio State into a program that had a reputation for developing elite quarterbacks, and he’s accomplished that goal in five years. So now what?
Creating an environment that can produce even one quarterback that turns into a first-round NFL Draft pick is applaudable.
There are only 43 programs that have managed to do so since 2000. That list dwindles down to 16 teams that have done it twice (though Drake Maye and Quinn Ewers may allow North Carolina and Texas, respectively, to join that list next spring).
Then you get to where the Buckeyes are as one of nine schools with at least three. The only program with more over the past 23 years is USC with four.
That would be an impressive feat if we were talking about a program doing that over a span of two decades. But OSU — and Alabama — rose to the top of this list within a matter of seasons. Before Day showed up OSU hadn’t even had a quarterback drafted since Cardale Jones was a fourth-round pick in 2016. Now it’s hard to envision a world where an Ohio State quarterback starter doesn’t get picked on Day 1.
Hearing your name heard on the draft’s third day doesn’t cut it in Columbus anymore, as the last three guys have gone 15th (Dwayne Haskins in 2009), 11th (Justin Fields in 2021) and second (C.J. Stroud in 2023). Kyle McCord or Devin Brown will be the 2023 starter and have the expectation that they will be more of the same.
“The guys that have come before them have done an unbelievable job,” Day said. “That is the expectation.”
That makes sense the way the Buckeyes have put up the passing numbers the past five years. But is it sustainable? Can OSU really continue a run of quarterback play that hasn’t been seen ... ever?
“We should be playing for a national championship,” Day said. “We should be Heisman Trophy finalists and a first-round draft pick.”
Alabama is also on its own streak of three having produced Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Bryce Young. The chances of that getting to four look shaky right now given the Crimson Tide was so unsure of the battle going on between Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson that it pulled former Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner out of the transfer portal. None of those names are popping up on mock drafts right now.
Florida State also three-peated with Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston. But the Seminoles are now in a 10-year drought, having not had one drafted since Winston
Lincoln Riley’s arrival may help USC hold onto that lead a little longer with Caleb Williams potentially being the top pick next spring and expected predecessor freshman Malachi Nelson being a five-star recruit in the 2023 class.
But it’s not like every Riley quarterback was a first-round pick.
While he was at Oklahoma he had back-to-back No. 1 picks in Mayfield and Murray, but Jalen Hurts followed up as a second-round pick. Then Spencer Rattler went from being the perceived top pick in the 2022 draft to losing his job to then-freshman Williams, and now enters his second season at South Carolina.
Even the best of quarterback developers have their bumps along the way. But the Buckeyes seem to be finding ways to avoid that with how they’ve both recruited and developed the position.
“What jumps out is this just doesn’t happen,” Day said. “Just because you’re the quarterback at Ohio State doesn’t mean all those things are going to happen. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of production on the field. You’ve gotta go put it on the field, it isn’t just gonna happen and I think these guys understand that.”
McCord is a former five-star recruit capable of having the type of one-and-done season that made Haskins and Jones first-round picks.
If Brown beats out McCord and becomes the starter, he can be like Stroud, a former late-blooming top-100 recruit who used two years to turn himself into a franchise quarterback. They even found a way to bounce back from losing Dylan Raiola to Georgia as the top player in the 2024 class by adding Air Noland, who’s now a five-star recruit as well.
Quarterback is the most important position in sports. It’s also the hardest to evaluate and even harder to develop. That makes what OSU is doing all the more impressive, but also intriguing.
How many more times can Day trot out a player that eventually lives up to the new standard he sets?
“Anytime you’re gonna be the quarterback at Ohio State there’s a lot of pressure,” Day said.
OSU’s quarterback room is trying to enter uncharted territory and it’s using a 2023 quarterback battle to get itself there.
“The standard is set and we’ve gotta keep building on that,” Day said.

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