What if Joe Burrow Stayed at Ohio State, Didn't Transfer to LSU?


There are very few flaws in Ohio State's football history, and even fewer blemishes over the last two seasons.

Only one, in fact -- that being a lone loss suffered at Purdue, quite out of the blue, in the eighth game of last season.

OSU went 7-0 prior to that in 2018 and 6-0 after, winning the Rose Bowl against Washington to send Urban Meyer out a winner.

Ryan Day stepped in and nothing has changed, except perhaps for the better.

Ohio State has won each of its 13 games this season by 11 points or more as it rolls into the College Football Playoffs matched against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28.

That would seem the resume of a program free from the nagging annoyance of hindsight, but...

Joe Burrow.

What if Burrow, the LSU quarterback by way of a graduate transfer from OSU, had remained with the Buckeyes instead of bidding bon voyage for Baton Rouge?

Would Burrow still have hoisted the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's best college quarterback, and the Maxwell Award as the nation's best player at the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday night.

More importantly, would he be stepping onto the stage Saturday night in New York as the recipient of Ohio State's eighth Heisman Trophy?

Most importantly, would the Buckeyes have suffered the loss at Purdue last year or been unbeaten and involved in the Playoff?

Might Meyer have claimed a fourth national championship ring as his retirement gift, and if so, would ESPN's panel of (cough, cough) experts still have ranked him the 46th-best college football coach in history?

The first chapter in the Revisionist History book of Burrow as a career Buckeye begins with fate intervening on Aug. 23, 2017.

That's when an innocuous practice rep set in motion the confluence of events that turned Joe Burrow into Geaux Burreaux.

Following through on a pass, Burrow struck a lineman's helmet and he broke a bone in his right hand.

Surgery the next day kept him off the field for a month, which by default handed the backup quarterback job behind J.T. Barrett to redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins.

Haskins played well enough to continue to earn the first relief reps in blowouts, while Burrow made do with the scraps, attempting only 11 passes in five games that season.

Haskins received playing time in eight games, none bigger than when called upon in emergency relief against Michigan when Barrett's knee locked up with Buckeyes trailing in the second half.

Haskins rode to the rescue with 6-of-7 passing for 94 yards, which keyed three straight scoring drives that carried OSU to victory and kept Meyer unbeaten against the Wolverines.

Right then, anyone could read the writing on the wall -- Burrow was not beating out Haskins in the spring of 2018, because no matter how well he practiced, Haskins had banked unimpeachable capital with Meyer and his staff.

Sure enough, even though Burrow had better numbers in the intra-squad scrimmage that concluded spring drills, Haskins retained his spot at the top of the pecking order.

That sent Burrow looking for a new home, which he found in the unlikeliest of places, given the assumption he'd go play at Nebraska -- where his father and uncles played -- or at Cincinnati, where former OSU assistant Luke Fickell would have felt he won the quarterback lottery.

Burrow, though, suffered no lack of confidence he could compete at the highest level. He strolled confidently into a quarterback room at LSU with three holdovers who would have a big experience edge on him in knowing the team's offense.

Burrow nevertheless started the season opener and every game since, but he wasn't so spectacular last season that OSU fans paid him much attention while Haskins was throwing for 50 touchdowns, winning Big Ten MVP honors and finishing third in the Heisman balloting behind Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa.

Haskins' statistics and individual success weren't without angst, however.

His lack of the running skills Burrow exhibited in LSU's win at Alabama handcuffed the Buckeyes at times in 2018, including in their only loss at Purdue.

Burrow likely would have fixed that, but could he have provided the same quick-strike qualities Haskins' offered to put up enough points to defeat Maryland (52-51 in overtime) and Michigan (62-39)?

Maybe, but maybe not.

In that scenario, where Burrow never got injured and played capably as Barrett's backup in 2017, it likely would have been Haskins who transferred out of Ohio State after spring practice in 2018.

And in that scenario, Georgia transfer Justin Fields wouldn't have given OSU a first look, let alone a second, if Burrow were an incumbent, fifth-year senior starter set to return in 2019.

Perhaps the best measure of Fields' success is not his 40 touchdowns against only one interception. It's that he's been so good virtually no one has asked the question you now know the answer to: "What if Joe Burrow never transferred from Ohio State to LSU?"

For the latest on Ohio State follow Sports Illustrated Buckeye Maven and @BuckeyeMaven on Twitter.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

A Burrow vs Fields title game would be so fitting. I bet I'm not the only one hoping for that game, would be absolutely electric


I think it would be really cool for both of these guys to play each other for the title game.