For CJ Stroud, the only question is what’s his encore.

In his first season as Ohio State’s QB1, Stroud threw a number of darts right into the Buckeye record book — 4,435 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, just 6 interceptions, and a fair share of the OSU single-game passing marks as well.

Of course, for many Buckeyes, the biggest number was 2: the number of Stroud’s starts that the Buckeyes lost. It’s worth noting that even in those games, Stroud passed for 878 yards and 5 scores.

But how can Stroud improve? Will he have the best season ever for an OSU QB? And how would that be measured, anyway? Stats? A national championship? The Heisman? I’d probably have to be a combination of at least two of those.

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Here’s a quick rundown on his competition.

Dwayne Haskins, 2018

Hasksins’ 2018 season is the only one that included more passing yards than Stroud’s 2021 season. His 4,831 passing yards is the Buckeye single-season mark (Stroud is the only other OSU QB to pass for 4,000 yards in a season). Haskins’s 50 touchdown passes that season are also the Buckeye single-season mark. Haskins finished 3rd in the Heisman voting in 2018, but the Buckeyes, because of a brutal 29-point loss at Purdue, missed out on the CFP. They finished 13-1 after winning the Rose Bowl.

Stroud did miss an entire game last week, sitting out the Buckeyes’ Akron win. Between that and a possible B1G title game, he could surpass Haskins’s yardage number. Touchdowns might be a taller order — 50 TD passes on a team with TreVeyon Henderson seems a little unlikely. Stroud finished 4th in Heisman voting last year, and could easily equal or surpass Haskins’ performance there. And a CFP bid would be another potential advantage.

Justin Fields, 2019

Fields can’t compete with Stroud’s existing passing numbers, but his 2019 season wasn’t exactly chopped liver. He did throw for 3,273 yards and 41 scores — with a microscopic total of 3 interceptions. Fields also rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns. (Stroud lost 20 yards on the ground last year.) Fields finished 4th in the Heisman voting, splitting the OSU vote with Chase Young, who finished 3rd. The Buckeyes reached the CFP, losing their semifinal matchup to Clemson, 29-23.

Stroud is unlikely to best his low of 6 interceptions last season, much less undercut Fields’s total. He certainly won’t be looking to take off on nearly 500 yards worth of runs. The 51 total touchdowns might also be a big total to reach for. But Stroud will almost certainly account for more yardage, and is likely to best Fields’s Heisman performance (unless Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Henderson splits his vote total). And while a CFP appearance is impressive, OSU could certainly go farther in ’22.

Troy Smith, 2006

Smith is OSU’s last Heisman winner and he led the Buckeyes to the national title game. That said, a check of his stats emphasizes how much college football has changed in less than 2 decades. Smith passed for 2,542 yards and 30 touchdowns in his senior season. At the time, that was the 4th most passing yards in a season for an OSU QB. Now it’s not even in the top 10. The 30 touchdowns is still 6th most. Smith did rush for another 204 yards and a score on the ground, but it wasn’t his 2005 season, when he ran for more than 3 times as many yards and added 11 rushing TDs.

Again, Smith’s best credentials are winning the Heisman and getting OSU to the title game. It’s a tall order for Stroud to achieve both, but the possibility is certainly present. He’ll own the statistical advantages.

Stroud, 2022?

Ohio State had the top passing game in the nation last year, and will likely be at a similar level this season. Stroud did miss a game last year, but if he can stay healthy and OSU plays 15 games, a 4,500-yard season is highly likely. But 50 touchdowns would be hard to manage, particularly if Ryan Day feeds Henderson and Miyan Williams around the goal line.

The Heisman is always hard to forecast, but Stroud enters the season a solid top 2 favorite, and Bryce Young is historically unlikely to win back-to-back Heismans. Team success is the ultimate X-factor. Cardale Jones has that national title ring, even if he doesn’t have the resume of Smith, Fields or Haskins. Winning the national title might be Stroud’s cleanest path to semi-officially being the all-time Buckeye QB 1.