This is the sixth in a series looking at how the Buckeyes will be replacing their departed starters in 2024. Up next is a look at the quarterback position vacated by the transfer of Kyle McCord.
Following Ohio State’s regular season, starting quarterback Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal and eventually ended up at Syracuse. In McCord’s lone season as a starter, he led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record. In fact, in his 13 career starts (including a spot start as a true freshman in 2021), McCord’s career winning percentage as a starter (.923) is the third-best over the past decade. He is only behind Cardale Jones (1.000) and Dwayne Haskins (.929).
McCord entered the portal before the Buckeyes headed off to the Cotton Bowl. He finished the 2023 season by throwing for 3,170 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was named Third-Team All-Big Ten. It was the first time that Ohio State didn’t have the First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback since 2015. The Buckeyes split starters that year between Cardale Jones and JT Barrett.
The Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year award has been around since 2011. A Buckeye has won the award every year, save for 2015 and 2011 — both years where OSU changed starters during the season — and 2023.
Devin Brown got the start against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, but because of an ankle injury in the first half he didn’t get the finish. As a redshirt freshman in 2023, he completed 16-of-28 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He did not attempt any passes as a true freshman. Brown played in six games last year, suffering two lower leg injuries.
When Brown went down against Missouri, he was replaced by true freshman Lincoln Kienholz. Kienholz didn’t get the reps he needed during the season to prepare him for the waves of blitzes that the Tigers threw at him, but it was definitely a good lesson learned. Kienholz saw action in a few games, completing 10-of-22 passes for 111 yards. He was able to redshirt.
Following the completion of the season, the Buckeyes went into the transfer portal and landed former Kansas State quarterback Will Howard. Howard was only a full-time starter once (2023), but had started multiple games in each of his four seasons in Manhattan. He enters the Ohio State quarterback room with 27 career starts. In his time at K-State he threw for 5,786 yards with 48 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also rushed for 921 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Buckeye head coach Ryan Day wants to sign a quarterback in every recruiting class, which he did in 2024 with five-star Georgia prospect Air Noland. Noland was ranked the No. 3 QB in the class per Rivals. He threw for over 10,000 yards in his high school career. Then, when Alabama head coach Nick Saban retired following the season, 2024 Tide quarterback signee Julian Sayin also transferred to Ohio State. Sayin is a five-star prospect per all of the major recruiting services. He finished his high school career with nearly 8,000 yards passing, throwing for 85 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions over three years as a starter.
The Buckeyes went with two offenses versus two defenses practicing simultaneously at times in fall camp last year so that Kyle McCord and Devin Brown could get more reps. Could the same thing happen this spring for the current QB quintet? That will likely depend on having enough healthy bodies to field two full squads.
Both true freshmen are already on campus, but they will be playing catchup all spring long. Will Howard will be doing the same, but he’s more equipped right now to keep up. This is his fifth year in college, which means he can better relate OSU’s playbook to his own experiences.
After spending last year locked in a quarterback battle, Devin Brown will no doubt feel like this job is his to lose. That process continues in the spring. Also, after getting a taste of the action in the Cotton Bowl, don’t expect Lincoln Kienholz to simply sit back and wait for his opportunity in 2025.
Provided he’s healthy enough to participate, don’t be surprised when Brown opens and even closes spring practice with the ones as Will Howard gets his footing underneath him.
Overall, this will be the deepest, most talented, and most mobile Ohio State quarterback room since 2016 when the Buckeyes had JT Barrett, Joe Burrow, and Dwayne Haskins all in the same room. But in terms of actual snaps at Ohio State, it’s also one of the most inexperienced.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day didn’t go into the portal and get Will Howard to be a backup. But Howard isn’t going to simply be handed the job. He will need to win it, and his stiffest competition will come from Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz — and probably in that order.
This is Howard’s final year in college football and he came to Ohio State to accomplish individual and team goals. Everybody else in the quarterback room still has time but Howard burned his boat when he landed in Columbus. He is the best bet to win the job this fall, but that doesn’t make him a sure thing.
There will be a learning curve for Howard. If the production isn’t there in practice, it won’t matter how many years in college he has left. That being said, if Howard doesn’t beat out Brown and Kienholz, you’re going to have some pretty surprised folks around the college football world.
And as for Air Noland and Julian Sayin, they will both need at least a year before any kind of significant expectations are realistically assigned to them.