Ryan Day's QB search: Ranking the best portal fits for Ohio State
Ryan Day needs a new quarterback. Whether that need is by Ohio State’s design or an inexplicable decision by Kyle McCord to leave voluntarily, the Buckeyes are short on experience heading into bowl practices.
Of course, there is always a chance Ohio State banks on Devin Brown or incoming 5-star Air Noland. But, for a team — and a head coach — facing the kind of pressure for 2024 that Ohio State will be, it’s almost certain Day has his eye on a replacement in the transfer portal.
How we wound up here is certainly a topic to dissect. After all, former 5-star QBs that go 11-1 as a starter in a talent-laden program like Ohio State do not traditionally decide there’s a better option elsewhere. However, that’s not going to be the question we digest in this piece.
For now, let’s focus on the future and the need that is glaring Ohio State directly in the face in this era of transfer portal madness. From all the QBs currently in the portal, who is the best fit for the Buckeyes?
The first thing to do is to take away players in the portal that appear to have a destination already in mind. According to various reports, Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel, Duke’s Riley Leonard and Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei already have a leader for their transfer commitment or a small group of frontrunners that do not include Ohio State or the Big Ten.
Next, it is probably best to remove young but elite prospects in need of development. That group would include players like UCLA’s Dante Moore who was a 5-star freshman in 2023.
If Ohio State is in the market for a portal QB, you can bet Day and his staff are looking for a veteran, plug-and-play starter who is a clear upgrade from Devin Brown. That’s not to say Brown can’t be the guy in the future, but McCord clearly performed better than Brown this season, and we know how McCord’s season ultimately played out.
So, which QBs currently in the portal (outside of the groups listed above) fit the bill and could also help with the development of Brown and Air Noland? (As always, more players could opt for the portal and change this list down the road.)
1. Cam Ward, Washington State
WSU stats (2022-23): 6,968 passing yards, 65.5% completion percentage, 48 passing TDs, 16 INTs, 13 rushing TDs
If Ohio State is serious about a portal QB, Cam Ward is absolutely the name to watch. And just for the record, my colleague Connor O’Gara also likes Ward as a favorite fit for Day and the Buckeyes.
It’s not hard to see why Ward would be on Day’s radar. Consider that during his tenure with Ohio State (including his work as OC), the Buckeyes have either had a majorly prolific passer (Dwayne Haskins, CJ Stroud) or an elite dual-threat performer (Justin Fields, JT Barrett).
On paper, Ward does not fit squarely into either camp, but he does bring more experience and versatility than McCord (and Brown, at this stage) to the table. It’s also understandable if Day sees Ward as a player he can work with and develop.
Ward opened his career with two seasons at FCS Incarnate Word, but he quickly showed at Washington State that he could take the next step to the FBS level. Based on the growth he has taken at each level, Day might see a player he can mold, particularly after his visible frustrations with McCord’s decisions throughout the season.
2. Will Howard, Kansas State
KSU Stats (2020-23): 5,786 passing yards, 58.8% completion percentage, 48 passing TDs, 25 INTs, 921 rushing yards, 19 rushing TDs
Whereas Ward could provide a full year of starting for the Buckeyes, Will Howard presents a more likely bridge candidate until Air Noland is ready at some point in his freshman season. Still, Howard is a true dual-threat candidate on this list who has improved his accuracy every season.
Fans will undoubtedly see a negative light in Howard’s 61.3% completion percentage in 2023 and 10 interceptions, but it also has to be considered what Howard would likely be asked to do in Columbus. It also needs to be factored in the type of offensive pieces that would likely be around Howard with the Buckeyes.
Under Day, the head coach could dial up a number of favorable reads to get the ball out of his hands quickly. The extra factor of Howard’s mobility would also serve him well when the offensive line breaks down.
3. Dequan Finn, Toledo
Toledo stats (2019-23): 7,079 passing yards, 60.3% completion percentage, 63 passing TDs, 23 INTs, 1,837 rushing yards, 25 rushing TDs
Could Ryan Day actually stay in-state for his next QB? Dequan Finn is one of two MAC QBs to hit the portal after an extremely productive career, and there is a lot to like about his game. He also has first-hand experience against the Buckeyes.
During a visit to Ohio Stadium in 2022, Finn delivered 3 total touchdowns before the Buckeyes finally shut him down. Facing Illinois this season, Finn delivered 75 yards rushing, over 300 yards of offense and 3 touchdowns in a last-second loss to Illinois.
As a starter, Finn was especially productive for the Rockets and set career-high marks as a passer in 2023. His most notable improvement came via a 63.4% percentage with 8.4 yards per attempt.
Like Howard, Finn would be a true dual-threat option who could add another dynamic to the rushing attack. He also fits the bill as a true bridge QB to help Nolan develop while also possessing dynamic potential.
4. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
MSU stats (2020-23): 12,315 passing yards, 69.3% completion percentage, 94 TDs, 28 INTs
What does Ryan Day want out of his next QB? I’ve been operating on the basis that Day wants someone a bit more versatile than McCord with the current pieces in place, but maybe that’s inaccurate. If Day decides he wants a traditional passer, Rogers fits the bill as an accurate distributor of the ball.
To be fair, it’s unlikely this is the angle — or fit — Day and the Buckeyes are looking for. However, Rogers’ numbers in 2023 are not indicative of what he can bring to the table.
While playing in Mike Leach’s offense, Rogers threw for over 8,700 yards with 71 TDs across 2021-22. He also completed over 70% of his passes in that stretch.