The first week on the job for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day was an eventful one. The first-year head coach rebuilt his defensive coaching staff and saw several players declare for the NFL draft, including the quarterback he helped mold into a probable first-round pick. None of those moves will have a bigger effect on the first impression Day makes in 2019 than putting the final touches on bringing to campus his next quarterback, Georgia transfer Justin Fields.
So who is Justin Fields, and what might his presence in Columbus mean for the Buckeyes in Day's debut season? Let's take a closer look.
How did Fields land at Georgia?
The Kennesaw, Georgia, native initially planned to join the Big Ten Conference a year ago and play for James Franklin at Penn State, but those plans changed when Fields' recruiting stock rose from a three-star prospect to one of the most coveted players in the country in the summer before his senior year of high school. Depending on what recruiting service you consulted, Fields was either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the country.
The other guy battling for that top spot -- Clemson's Trevor Lawrence -- just threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the national championship game last week. Fields ultimately opted to stay with his home-state Bulldogs and battle for a starting spot with Jake Fromm, another true freshman who had led his team to a title shot.
Why is Fields leaving Georgia?
Fields threw four touchdowns passes and ran for four more during his first season in Georgia, but he never surpassed Fromm on the Bulldogs' depth chart. Fields played in 11 of 12 regular-season games, but his minutes went down as the level of competition went up; against Alabama, LSU, Kentucky and Missouri, he attempted only one total pass. Fields admitted to reporters following an SEC championship game loss to Alabama that he was "frustrated" with the opportunities he received, especially early in the season. With Fromm firmly entrenched in the starting spot, Fields let Georgia's coaches know in December that he wanted to look elsewhere.
How does Fields fit at Ohio State?
Day's reputation as a molder of modern quarterbacks grew this season thanks to a record-setting campaign by Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins. Day's elevation from offensive coordinator to head coach helped Ohio State stand out among a long list of schools that would be interested in Fields. At Ohio State, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore could provide a mixture of the Buckeyes' prior two starters -- Haskins and J.T. Barrett.
Fields, who averaged 6.3 yards per rush in 2018, was quick to scramble at Georgia and successful enough on those runs that opponents will have to defend that possibility whenever he drops back to pass. His arm strength is closer to that of Haskins than Barrett. Previous evaluators and coaches also have raved about his ability to quickly learn an offense and read a defense.
The offense that Day has implemented in Columbus over the past two seasons has turned Ohio State into one of the nation's most dangerous scoring teams. Field has the talent to keep the Buckeyes at that level of production when he gets on the field.
Will he play in 2019?
Less than a year ago, NCAA rule-makers created a list of criteria a transferring football player must meet in order to get a waiver that would allow him to avoid sitting out for a season. There are four items on the list. Two of them have to do with the athlete's academic standing. (No issues on that front for Fields.) One of them states that the athlete's former school "does not oppose the transfer." (Georgia isn't likely to get in Fields' way here, for multiple reasons.)
The highest bar to clear has to do with the athlete's reason for transferring. For Fields to play for Ohio State in 2019, he would have to show he was leaving Georgia because of "documented mitigating circumstances" that are both outside of his control and impact his "health, safety and well-being."
Last spring, Atlanta-based attorney Tom Mars used these new criteria to help six former Ole Miss players gain immediate eligibility at their new schools. Those decisions appeared to set a precedent that would make it more likely for transferring players to convince the NCAA to grant them waivers for immediate eligibility.
Many believe Fields' best bet to meet the criteria stems from an incident at a Georgia home game this September, when a Bulldogs baseball player who was watching a football game from the stands allegedly repeatedly yelled a racist epithet in reference to Fields. The university addressed the issue publicly, which makes it a documented circumstance. Fields clearly had no control of the circumstance. If Fields and his family believe that the racist comments threaten his health, safety or well-being, the incident checks all the boxes needed for a waiver.
Fields, however, has a sister who recently enrolled at Georgia to play on the school's softball team. Her presence on campus provides a counterargument to the idea that the Fields family believes the university environment might impact their child's health, safety or well-being.
It is important to note that neither Fields nor anyone representing him has ever said that the September incident at Sanford Stadium has anything to do with his decision to transfer. That theory has been floated only by writers and others around the sport speculating on Field's chances on playing right away at Ohio State.
Mars, who helped the Ole Miss players and is now working with Fields, said the transfer process is more complicated than most people realize. Mars said he was confident that Fields had a good case to play in 2019, but not for the reasons others have projected.
"Nobody who's on social media would have a problem with Justin getting a waiver if they knew the whole story," Mars told ESPN last week.
When asked for more details, Mars declined to provide additional information. He also declined to answer whether the September incident would play any role in their argument for a waiver.
If Fields is granted the waiver, he is expected to be a front-runner for the starting job right away in Columbus.
When will he have an answer?
There is no deadline for Ohio State to submit an application for a waiver or for the NCAA to respond, but Mars said he believes the process will be completed by the end of February. That means Ohio State should know at the start of spring practice if Fields will be eligible in 2019.
What does his arrival mean for Ohio State's other QBs?
Aside from Fields, Ohio State currently has five quarterbacks on its roster. Two are preferred walk-ons. Matt Baldwin is a four-star prospect from Texas who didn't play as a freshman in 2018. Chris Chugunov is a graduate transfer who played sparingly at West Virginia and has one year of eligibility remaining. And Tate Martell is a former blue-chip prospect from Las Vegas who played in some designed packages during the 2018 season. The school didn't sign any new quarterbacks in its 2019 class.
Martell, after making it clear that he wasn't thrilled about the idea of Fields coming to Columbus, entered his name in the online database that allows other schools to contact him. This doesn't mean Martell is committed to leaving Ohio State, but he is looking at his options for a new home.
Martel told reporters in December he planned on winning the starting job at Ohio State, but last week, he started posting images to social media of trips to different college towns. Martell hasn't made any public proclamation that his time with the Buckeyes is done, but he doesn't appear to be waiting for news of Fields' waiver request before weighing his other options.
Without either Fields or Martell, Ohio State would likely turn its offense over to Baldwin or go in search of a graduate transfer to add to the roster this summer.