The relationship between a starter and his backup provides no middle ground. Either they help each other achieve a common goal or force their teammates into a battle of picking sides.
After failing to unseat Jake Fromm, Georgia quarterback Justin Fields has decided to transfer to Ohio State, where he is expected to enroll in classes next week and create a fascinating situation for the Buckeyes in spring practice and beyond.
Fields has a good chance to become eligible immediately if he applies for a hardship waiver, instead of having to sit out a year like most transfer athletes under NCAA rules.
Fields played in 12 games this season, completing 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns and running for an additional four touchdowns, but he did not play in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss to Texas. Amid midseason reports that he was not comfortable in the Bulldogs' offense, Fields at times looked to be running a stripped-down version of the system Fromm ran, and head coach Kirby Smart's deployment of Fields for the failed fake punt that set up Alabama’s come-from-behind win in the SEC title game was the maddening cap on a frustrating season for Bulldogs fans.
Once Fields is officially entrenched in Columbus, he will have another issue on his hands, one by the name of Tate Martell.
Martell, a redshirt freshman from Las Vegas, served as the backup this season to Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins. He threw only 28 passes in limited snaps in 2018 and is the type of electric runner that several previous Ohio State offenses have deployed within their spread concepts.
While Martell has been biding his time for his opportunity in the spotlight, his mouth has already gotten primetime attention.
Here is a sample of what Martell had to say at the possibility of Fields's transfer and the speculation of him leaving the school once Fields arrives.
“Why would I leave for someone who hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” Martell told reporters during the Rose Bowl media availability. “I’ve put two years of working my ass off for something that I’ve been waiting for and dreaming of having my whole life.”
He wasn’t done on his prospects of being QB1 once the season opener rolls around on Aug. 31 against Florida Atlantic.
“I have no doubt I’ll win the job. I’m 100% sure on that,” Martell said, who also insists he will be fine with Fields coming into the program.
When word surfaced about Fields leaving Georgia and Ohio State being his preferred destination, Martell's not-so-cryptic tweet said it all.
There are two other quarterbacks on Ohio State’s roster that also may have a say in this potentially contentious quarterback battle: rising redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin and West Virginia transfer Chris Chugunov, who received significant snaps at the end of the 2017 season after Will Grier was injured.
In terms of skill set, both Fields and Martell both are dual-threats with escapability inside the pocket and can take the offense when the opportunity presents itself.
Fields, who was No. 2 rated player in the class of 2018, fits the prototype of a next-generation field general. He stands at 6’3”, weighs 225 pounds and runs a sub-4.5 40. Fields will be able to thrive in either a pro-style system or spread because of his unique abilities.
Martell is listed generously at 5’11”, 210 pounds, but he does have an advantage because he has been under new head coach Ryan Day’s system for the past two seasons.
Whoever wins the battle for the starting gig has a chance at leading the Buckeyes to another special season with Ohio State getting Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State at home, while the annual battle with Michigan is in Ann Arbor. But there will almost certainly be fireworks before Week 1.