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Ohio State's quarterback search and the impact of the transfer portal on college football

Ohio State football helmet
Brynn Anderson

The college football transfer portal is changing the game, with Ohio State making moves for a new quarterback, Will Howard from Kansas State.

The Buckeyes were in search for a new quarterback after last year's starter Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse and a lackluster offensive showing in a 14-3 Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri on New Year's Eve.

We discuss changes to Ohio State's roster and how the transfer portal will impact college football with Bill Rabinowitz, who covers the Buckeyes for The Columbus Dispatch.


Matthew Rand: Good morning. I'm Matthew Rand on 89.7 NPR News. After Kyle McCord transferred and a lackluster offensive performance in the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State has entered the transfer portal for a new quarterback.

Here to talk to me about the Buckeyes' prospects and what it all means for college football as a whole is Columbus Dispatch sports writer Bill Rabinowitz. Thanks for speaking with me, Bill.

Bill Rabinowitz: Nice to be on with you, Matthew.

Matthew Rand: Okay, so first of all, let's get right to it. Tell us about the new quarterback from Kansas State, Will Howard. What's his background and is he an improvement?

Bill Rabinowitz: Well, we're going to find out. He's from Pennsylvania. Not a blue chip guy, but a guy who worked his way up and had a really good career at Kansas State, had some really good moments, had a little bit of an up and down last year. They had a freshman that they really wanted to see. And so I'm not sure that, I think maybe both sides are ready to move on.

But for Ohio State, after Kyle McCord left, they needed somebody with some experience. Devin Brown, they hoped would kind of have his coming out party in the Cotton Bowl. And that didn't happen.

He didn't play particularly well in the first quarter. Then he got hurt. So it was an incomplete grade and they really needed to see what they had in Devin Brown and they didn't get to see that.

So the idea of going into the 2024 season with Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz, who had to play in the Cotton Bowl and was kind of exposed as being the true freshman he was, and then this very promising but true freshman, Air Noland, they needed some experience in the room, somebody that would be reliable.

And so there were not a lot of great, great options in the portal, especially by the time Ohio State was kind of looking at it. So I think Will Howard is a good get. We'll see if he can kind of progress into becoming an elite quarterback. If he in fact wins the job.

I think Devin Brown still is going to compete for that job. You know, we'll have to let it play out.

Matthew Rand: I mentioned Kyle McCord, of course. Who else is leaving and where are some of the other needs on this OSU team going forward?

Bill Rabinowitz: Yeah, there's a bit of a, I don't know if panic is the right word, but consternation that a lot of guys went in the portal. But that's just a fact of life in college football these days. That's happened at Georgia, at Alabama, you know everywhere.

There's churn, especially at the bottom of the roster. And the fact is that most of the guys who left Ohio State or transferred are going to lower-level schools and places where they wouldn't have probably played a whole lot at Ohio State, there are some exceptions certainly.

I mean, Julian Fleming going to Penn State, they would have liked to have had him back, but he's a Pennsylvania guy and probably could see that even next year he was not going to have a real prominent role.

And so that's the loss. Chip Trayanum went to Kentucky. He would have been certainly a piece of the puzzle in the backfield as a running. You know, most of the other guys are, guys know they could stand to lose.

Matthew Rand: Quickly I just want to hear your thoughts kind of about the transfer portal, how big of a deal this has become for the game and how it's changing the game going forward.

Bill Rabinowitz: Yeah, it's crazy because it's known, in the NFL or most pro sports, you could be a free agent, but there are rules to it. Like in baseball, you have to be with the team for six years, and in football it's at least three or four years. In college, you can (enter the transfer portal) in the drop of a hat.

Now there are windows and the portal window is closed right now, so you can't enter the transfer portal right now until after the spring.

But it's crazy because Ohio State goes from having Kyle McCord play for them against Michigan and potentially play for them as starting quarterback in a Big Ten championship and a playoff. Instead, he's gone. He's off to Syracuse.

And so there's no stability anymore. You have to build your roster really year by year and hope to keep as much of it intact as you can. But know that it's really difficult to do that.

Matthew Rand: Tonight's college football national championship game is almost an all-Big Ten contest. What does this mean for the Big Ten going forward?

Bill Rabinowitz: Yeah, I mean, Michigan being in, it's big for the Big Ten. I'm sure Ohio State fans would beg to differ with that. They would probably rather see any other Big Ten team in the national championship game.

Washington comes next year along with Oregon, UCLA and USC. So that'll be a feather in the cap for the Big Ten to get those schools. Yeah, it'll be interesting. It's a prelude to what will be an every-year thing, or at least as often as these teams will play as Big Ten opponents.

Matthew Rand: All right, I've been speaking with Columbus Dispatch sport writer Bill Robinowitz about OSU transfers and big changes in college football. Quickly mentioned the No. 2 Washington Huskies take on No. 1 Michigan tonight at 7:30. Bill, thanks again.

Bill Rabinowitz: Thank you Matthew.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.