A week ago, Ohio State was in the catbird seat after Justin Fields announced he was leaving Georgia and headed to Columbus. Not only were the Buckeyes gaining the highest-rated prospect in program history, they had Tate Martell ready to battle the former 5-star prospect for the starting job.
Things change quickly in college football, though, and now a once-enviable position might get a little murky for Ryan Day and Co.
Jeremy Birmingham of Letterman Row reported Thursday that Martell’s name was found in the NCAA transfer database, allowing the former 4-star prospect to explore other options. His interest in potentially leaving Columbus comes just a few weeks after saying he has no intention of departing from the program, especially for someone who hasn’t taken a single snap at an Ohio State practice.
“Why would I leave for somebody that hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” Martell told the Toledo Blade. “I’ve put two years of literally working my ass off into something I’ve been working for and a dream I’ve had my whole life.
“This dude hasn’t put a single second into Ohio State football. I don’t know why somebody would think the grass is greener on the other side. But I guess he’s kind of looking at it like a fantasy way.”
As soon as Fields made the announcement that he was headed for Columbus, he was crowned by social media — and other media outlets — as the next starter for the Buckeyes, picking up where Dwayne Haskins left off. But Fields is still in the appeals process with the NCAA, working with attorney Tom Mars in an attempt to receive eligibility for the 2019 season.
Therein lies the (potential) problem.
While Fields is expected to be granted a waiver from the NCAA and receive immediate eligibility, it’s certainly not a guarantee. And with the downright head-scratching decisions college athletics’ governing body makes sometimes, winning an appeal is far from a sure-fire thing.
Whether or not Martell could’ve beaten out Fields for the starting job is a different conversation right now. Martell was essentially a security blanket for Day and Co. If Fields’ appeal was denied and he was strapped to the sideline until 2020, Ohio State’s offense still would’ve been in great hands.
If Martell does leave Columbus, the Buckeyes would be down to Fields, redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin and West Virginia transfer Chris Chugunov. Neither has played a snap at Ohio State.
Should Fields be granted his appeal, Ohio State would be in fine shape. If not, Day might be left scrambling at the most important position in his first year as head coach.
Martell’s skillset and competitiveness would surely be missed from Ohio State. He was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class. Though he played sparingly behind Haskins in 2018, he showed off his pinpoint accuracy and quick feet, traits the Buckeyes like to see from their quarterbacks. In six games, Martell completed 23-of-28 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown, and added 128 yards and two scores on the ground.
The decision on Fields is expected to come quickly, according to Mars. The expectation is that the NCAA will have their ruling by February, giving Fields, and Ohio State, notice ahead of the start of spring football. Perhaps Martell will wait on that decision, as well. If Fields isn’t able to play in 2019, Martell could be the Buckeyes’ starter next fall and dare the former Bulldog to challenge him for the starting job in 2020.
Or maybe Martell has already made up his mind and is just looking for the right fit. The writing could be on the wall in Columbus, and the Las Vegas native wants a jumpstart on moving forward with his career.
It’s going to be a tense few weeks in Columbus, especially if Martell departs before the ruling on Fields reaches a verdict.