This time a year ago, more than a few folks figured Justin Fields would become Georgia’s starting quarterback before the 2018 season ended. (I was among them.) Didn’t happen. Didn’t come close to happening. Whereupon Fields did as you had to figure he’d do, meaning leave. He’s now considered the front-runner to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback, not to mention the co-third-favorite, as of late February, for the 2019 Heisman Trophy.
Every so often, though, we’re reminded that Fields, for all his hype, hasn’t done a thing as a collegian. The most impressive number attached to his name remains that 5-star recruiting ranking, which is what dazzled a lot of us and continues to dazzle many. But here we note that Fields, whose waiver to play immediately as a transfer was granted by the NCAA faster than you can said “immediately,” was on display at the Buckeyes’ spring game last weekend, and the results were not, er, dazzling.
True, he completed a 98-yard touchdown pass. That was one of his four completions in 13 attempts. (He also ran for a touchdown.) Afterward he conceded to reporters he didn’t know the OSU playbook in its entirety, which is understandable. As of New Year’s Day, he was in uniform — though not playing — for Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. He’s a sophomore-to-be who wasn’t asked to do much as a freshman, and his senior year of high school ended when he broke the index finger on his throwing hand in October.
Put simply, the man of whom so much has been written the past two years really hasn’t done much playing. Part of that was because of Jake Fromm, who wasn’t a 5-star recruit but has now seen off two of those — first Jacob Eason, now Fields — in the span of two Georgia seasons. Fromm might never win a Heisman — he didn’t even make second-team All-SEC last season — but he’s the one indispensable (and immovable) Bulldog.
Two years in, we absolutely know what Fromm can do, seeing as how he keeps doing it on a weekly basis. Fields is too famous be deemed an unknown, but he’s essentially unproven. He might well be as good as people seem to think he is; then again, he might not. If nothing else, he has succeeded in grabbing the attention of the fan bases tracking two of the nation’s top five programs, and that’s an achievement of some sort.
All Fields has to do to win the hearts of Buckeyes backers is to be an improvement over the recent likes of Braxton Miller, twice the Big Ten MVP; J.T. Barrett, three times all-conference; Cardale Jones, architect of an improbable national title, and Dwayne Haskins, third-place finisher in the 2018 Heisman voting. Unlike the others, Fields won’t be coached by Urban Meyer, who again retired to spend time with his family, until the USC job opens, but by Ryan Day, who has never been a head coach.
That’s a lot to ask, but Fields – you’ve heard this already, I know — is considered a massive talent. He could well make good. But a high-profile transfer QB can’t sneak up on anybody. Fields threw more incompletions than completions in a spring game, and that got noticed. But at least his debut in new surroundings went better than Tate Martell’s.
You’ll recall that, when word of Fields’ interest in Ohio State began to circulate, Martell – then the backup to Haskins – offered an unsolicited Tweet: “Word of advice: Don’t swing and miss – especially not your second time.”