As Joe Burrow hugged Ryan Day on Saturday night in New York, Ohio State fans had to be wondering.

“Hmmmmmm, what could’ve been.”

Don’t get it twisted. There’s nothing for Buckeye fans to be bitter about.

Ohio State got Dwayne Haskins having one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a quarterback, and what Justin Fields did in 2019 is arguably even more impressive. It’s not like Ohio State is in the position of Georgia, who had to watch Fields have the year everyone thought he was capable of while Jake Fromm … well, let’s just say he didn’t play at Fields’ level.

Burrow’s sense of awareness was on full display at that Heisman podium. He sensed the magnitude of the moment, and understood how important it was to thank everyone who got him there. That included Day, who Burrow obviously only got to spend a year with before he transferred to LSU.

It was Burrow’s awareness that told him there was nothing he was going to be able to do in fall camp to push him past Haskins to win the starting job. What Haskins did in relief against Michigan in 2017 was always going to be the hurdle that Burrow couldn’t clear.

Despite Urban Meyer not full on admitting that, Burrow was right. Ed Orgeron needed him more. One trip to Baton Rouge sold Burrow on that, and the rest is history. Go back and read some of the comments from this tweet:

But what if we could go back in time? What if we could change one thing that happened 19 months ago? Let’s play out a world in which Burrow never entered the transfer portal and did stay at Ohio State.

Now is the time for you, reader of this column, to drift to a different world. A world in which Burrow said “transfer? Nah, I’m an Ohio kid. I’m staying right here.” Turn off reality and turn on your imagination with me.

Burrow rides the bench in 2018, but …

He gets another year working with Day. As frustrating as it is to not start over Haskins, Burrow still gets reps. And unlike Tate Martell, Burrow actually gets to throw the ball. The efficiency is there. Granted, it’s in garbage time in front of half-empty stadiums, but Burrow’s ability to sense pressure and keep his eyes downfield is noticeable. Nothing about him says “backup.” He makes throws that changes the tune of Ohio State fans who assumed that Martell was in line to replace Haskins.

All the while, Haskins continues to light up defenses en route to a historic season. Burrow’s emerging presence doesn’t faze Haskins. It does, however, faze Martell. As Burrow’s support internally and externally grows, Martell fires off a subtweet and hints at being jealous of Burrow’s increased attention for his throwing prowess.

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“If only they let me sling it like that…”

Despite growing speculation that Haskins is due for an early NFL departure and that a new quarterback battle is set to unfold, Martell enters the transfer portal immediately after Ohio State is left out of the Playoff. Haskins announces his NFL departure and shortly thereafter, it’s clear as ever.

The starting job belongs to Burrow in 2019. Finally.

Meanwhile, down on the Bayou

A 2018 season that began with Ed Orgeron on the hot seat ends with LSU looking for a new coach.

Orgeron hoped someone like Burrow was going to hit the open market, but instead of landing the Ohio State signal-caller, he rolls the dice on Stanford’s Keller Chryst. Between Chryst and Myles Brennan struggling to hold down the starting job, LSU stumbles out of the gate. A 1-2 start with losses to Miami (FL) and at Auburn stymies any chance Orgeron had at saving his job. Like his predecessor Les Miles, Orgeron’s firing comes after a demoralizing Tiger Bowl loss.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda not only gets the interim gig, but he also lands the full-time job at season’s end, marking the second time in 3 seasons that LSU filled its head coaching vacancy from within.

Orgeron never gets the chance to hire Joe Brady. Instead of watching the 29-year-old coach reinvent the LSU offense and take the college football world by storm, Brady’s name is only know by diehard New Orleans Saints fans.

Whenever an LSU fan asks the hypothetical question about what would’ve happened if Burrow had left Ohio State for LSU, it’s met with a response like, “dude would’ve been Danny Etling 2.0.”

And in the SEC

Burrow is completely off Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s radar. Neither of them have to game plan for Burrow. For Saban and Smart, the only thing standing in the way of them winning SEC Championships is each other.

Well, who are we kidding. Saban still stands in Smart’s way.

In 2018 and 2019, Alabama takes down Georgia in the SEC Championship en route to yet another national championship berth. There’s no talk of a dead Alabama dynasty. The only question is if Saban is getting better with age.

The 4th-and-11 fake punt in the 2018 SEC Championship is still the last straw for Fields, who gets tired of his Martell-like role and leaves Georgia. But with Burrow entrenched as Ohio State’s starter, Fields doesn’t come to Ohio State (Day isn’t searching for a transfer of Fields’ caliber because he knows what he has in Burrow).

Instead, Fields goes back to the school that he was originally committed to — Penn State.

Burrow vs. Fields becomes the great new B1G debate

After spending an entire offseason downplaying how excited he is about Burrow’s progress, Day unleashes the fifth-year senior to the college football world in 2019. With a wealth of talented weapons around him, Burrow puts up monster numbers the first month of the season.

The issue, however, is that because Ohio State fails to play a Power 5 team in non-conference play, the skeptics are out in full force as it relates to the first-year starter. The scoreboard watchers don’t see that Burrow is making throws even more impressive than the ones that Haskins made, and with Ohio State’s backloaded schedule a “yeah, but” is always followed whenever Burrow’s name is mentioned as an elite quarterback.

Meanwhile in State College, Fields is getting all the headlines. Reunited with the staff who hired him, Penn State blows teams out left and right. Much like Haskins allowed Buckeye fans to move on from J.T. Barrett in a hurry, Fields does the same for Penn State fans with Trace McSorley. It’s Fields who’s considered the prohibitive Heisman favorite.

Both Fields and Burrow find themselves leading top-3, undefeated teams heading into their monumental showdown on Nov. 23.

In a high-scoring, back-and-forth thriller, it’s Burrow who gets the last chance at romance. Down 41-38 with 52 seconds left on their own 42-yard line on 3rd and 14, Burrow hits a streaking Chris Olave on the right sideline for a go-ahead score. The Shoe goes crazy. Gus Johnson passes out on live TV. The Heisman moment is complete. Burrow is carried off the field on the shoulders of Ohio State teammates to chants of “Jo-ey, Heis-man!”

Day’s postgame press conference is full of questions about what he saw in Burrow to make him think he’d shine when finally given the opportunity. “I knew he’d be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but I’ll be honest. He blows me away every time he steps onto the field.”

The scene in New York

Three weeks later, Burrow is in New York, and it’s obvious. He’s surrounded by Chase Young, Jalen Hurts and, you guessed it, Fields. Burrow, with a dark gray suit and red tie, is the talk of the town. Everyone knows that as the leader of the 13-0 Buckeyes with 45 touchdown passes, it’s not a matter of “if” he’ll win the Heisman, but rather how much he’ll win it by.

After all, he won the head-to-head battle with Fields, who is still Playoff-bound after the Ohio State loss. Fields’ Penn State squad made the field with 1 loss, which became a much more heated debate than the Heisman in the closing weeks because it meant Hurts’ Oklahoma squad was left out of the field as a 1-loss conference champ.

There’s no suspense when the announcement comes: “The 2019 winner of the Heisman Trophy goes to … Joe Burrow.” Burrow daps up the fellow Heisman finalists and makes his way around to his family, and then he gets to Day. The two share an extended hug before Burrow heads to the stage.

Burrow steps to the podium and speaks eloquently. He breaks down the journey it took to get there, and how he’d always dreamed of this moment as the next Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State. And then, near the end of his speech, Burrow pauses.

“And to Coach Day … thank you. Thank you for letting me wear a headset on the sidelines last year when I wasn’t the starter. Thank you for letting me pick your brain 24/7, 365. Thank you for believing in me after Dwayne left. Thank you for not assuming that a fifth-year quarterback wasn’t ever going to get any better. Thank you for allowing me to live out my dream as a kid growing up in Southeast Ohio.”

The night belongs to Burrow and he soaks in every second of it.

The following morning, Burrow wakes up in his Manhattan hotel and walks down to the lobby, where he finds Day waiting for him. It’s a quieter, but busy day — breakfast, a flight back to Columbus and a Sunday night film session.

What’s next?

Burrow vs. Fields, The Sequel.