Will Howard's Transfer to Ohio State: Batman Begins
Will Howard to Ohio State should pay dividends for the Buckeyes, but where does he land on the CFF spectrum in VP's eyes? Well, we're glad you asked, because he's here to tell you.
(Alfred) Why bats, Master Wayne?
Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies shared my dread.
- Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins (2005)
In the early days of January, in what was a surprising turn of events, former Kansas State Wildcats QB Will Howard pledged his allegiance to the Buckeyes of The Ohio State. For the majority of his portal recruitment, signs pointed towards USC as his next destination. One Miller Moss in the DIRECTV Holiday Bowl later and we find ourselves with another destination for the former BIG12 gunslinger.
Upon the news, I had to ponder for a little while about how I felt about this move. It’s sort of an uncharacteristic one for Day and OSU. We’re accustomed to them having the biggest names at QB. The last starting QB transfer they brought in was former five-star QB Justin Fields from UGA. Then they had presumed NFL Rookie of the Year CJ Stroud.
Yet, even with Stroud’s firepower, and one of the greatest WR rooms over a three year stretch that we’ve ever seen, Day and Co. failed to defeat their arch nemesis— UM.
Said nemesis, the Wolverines, apply a different formula to roster construction. They don’t recruit at a big boy level, and haven’t had a top five class in several years. Their program was built in a more blue-collar way, if you will.
But Ryan Day, for all his faults, has been described as a fast learner. When he’s not calling out CFB legend Lou Holtz, shortly after defeating an under-manned ND team (two plays in a row, fucking idiots…), he’s in the lab, meticulously taking notes and improving his offence.
UM is currently sitting on a three-game win streak, with dual threat guys like Cade ‘Scarecrow’ McNamara and JJ ‘Mad Hatter’ McCarthy as their QBs during that span. Could Day be implementing a similar formula with his latest move?
When it was announced that OSU would be shifting away from former St. Joseph’s prep legend, Kyle ‘Joker’ McCord, in favour of KSU’s Will ‘Batman’ Howard, it was no surprise that there was some trepidation from the OSU beat team:
(OSU beat writer) “Why Will Howard, Coach?”
(Coach Day) “Mobile white QBs frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.”
A dramatic pause followed after Coach Day’s statement, he then looked up, continuing his thought:
“Look, we’ve had some really talented players come from through here in the last three years, and we appreciate their contributions to the program. But, when a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural…
I met with the team earlier this morning shortly after the transfer was announced. I pointed to a UM logo that I printed out and told them: ‘you must become more than a man in the mind of your opponent, only then will you defeat them’… I also let them know that we’ve changed our signs a few times, that should help too.”
Fucking hell. That’s pretty dramatic. It sounds like a man who knows that if he doesn’t beat UM next year, that he might be out of a job. The good news is: 1) Ol’ Jimmy’s days in the collegiate ranks may be numbered, and 2) Will Howard is not just another guy at QB.
There have been questions about whether or not Howard is really an upgrade over McCord. I’m here to say: probably. So let’s get into it.
QB Will ‘Batman’ Howard — 6’5, 240
Expecting a different section here? We’ll get to the C&S part of today’s article later on. I would prefer to focus on the player first for this one.
Will Howard is entering his fifth season in CFB, after starting his career at Kansas State. Originally from Pennsylvania, it’s actually not that much of a surprise that he opted to play in the B1G. Being a three star recruit out of high school, I imagine Howard dreamed of one day playing in the B1G in his younger days.
Howard’s been a favourite of mine in CFF for a few seasons now. He had his best year statistically in 2023, averaging just over 25 PPG. In 13 games, he passed for 2648 yards, 25 TDs to 10 INTs, and ran in another nine scores, with 351 yards to go with it.
His aggregate numbers in the previous season (2022) were not quite as attractive. Howard finished the campaign averaging just over 21 PPG, accumulating a total of just over 1600 yards in seven games. His TD to INT ratio was still pretty decent, as he scored a total of 18 TDs to four INTs. That was a weird season though. He was thrusted into the action when Adrian Martinez went down, and then there was some back and forth later in the year when Martinez was healthier. His 2023 numbers, I think, are more indicative of his value.
One of the big things about Howard vs. McCord is just the intangibles that they bring. Howard led his Wildcats to a B12 championship (netting me $1100+ in profit on a KSU futures bet— Thanks Will!). McCord looks like it’s an inconvenience to be there every time he’s on the field.
Needless to say, there were concerns about McCord’s demeanour. The program lacked leadership, and Day’s hand was essentially forced— McCord had to go.
OSU considered a few options in the portal, but when Day met with Howard for the first time, my sources tell me the deal was sealed shortly after the former KSU Wildcat told him this:
“Coach, you traveled the country... Now you must journey north... to what you really fear... it's inside you... there is no turning back. 0-3 was not your fault. Your training is nothing. The will is everything. If you make yourself more than just a coach, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. Are you ready to begin?”
Compelling. In fact, I just got goosebumps reading the text of that very real conversation. Indeed, OSU is in very unfamiliar territory— like being in a dark cave surrounded by bats. The way out of this hellhole is clear as day, however: Just. Beat. Michigan.
Will Howard in OSU’s Offence — STUD or DUD?
Howard joins a Buckeye program with returning RB Trey Henderson, who can catch passes, and a WR room that will include Brandon Innis, Carnell Tate, Emeka Egbuka and Jayden Ballard, and of course, the incoming freshmen, who the VP interns tell me are pretty good. Additionally, for good measure, the Buckeyes brought in former Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins.
To answer the question of where Howard stands in my CFF assessment, the first place we should start is asking the question: who calls the plays for OSU? For most teams, that’s the OC. In this case, that man was Brian Hartline. However, head coach Ryan Day is also involved, and is liable to take over at a moment’s notice. That’s good, because we don’t have much data on Hartline calling plays (only got promoted last year), whereas with Day, his patterns are more extensive.
Ryan Day took over head coaching duties full time from Urban Meyer in 2019. Hartline was promoted to OC in the 2023 offseason. And, because the OSU admin likes to make my life hard, they announced the acquisition of Bill O’Brien (BOB) as the new OC for 2024 late last week. As far as I know, Hartline will be a co-OC with BOB in 2024. At the very least, we know BOB got some good production out of Bryce Young. I don’t feel too strongly one way or the other on his inclusion into the mix.
At risk of using the Batman Begins trope once again, Ryan Day is sort of like Batman here, and Hartline is like his Robbin. Occasionally Robbin gets drunk and crashes the Batmobile, or goes on a twitter (X) spree liking tweets that are crapping on FSU WR Keon Coleman’s production, and Day has to come in and save the… day? Pun not intended there. Point being, no matter who the OC is at OSU, it’s always going to be Ryan Day’s offence.
As far as the numbers, I won’t go through McCord’s from 2023, since we know it was a pretty pedestrian year for that Joker.
Prior to McCord, CJ Stroud enjoyed two productive seasons in Columbus. In 2022, he accounted for 41 TDs to six INTs, and passed for over 3600 yards (~22.5 PPG). In ‘21, he passed for over 4400, and scored 44 TDs to six INTs (~28.3 PPG).
The 2022 year was a disappointment for CFF; that PPG average is not good enough. The 2021 campaign was strong, but nothing extraordinary (i.e., that you can’t find via waivers in September).
But the thing about Stroud was that his rushing usage was fairly minimal. Most likely, he was advised not to leave the pocket unless absolutely necessary, either by Day or someone in his camp. His predecessor— Justin Fields, was a stronger producer in CFF, in part because he used his feet more liberally.
During the COVID season, Fields accounted for 27 total TDs (22 passing, 5 rushing), and over 2400 yards in eight games (~30 PPG). His 2019 numbers were good, but (and I say this as a former shareholder), were capped by OSU’s propensity for blowing out their opponents frequently that season. Fields scored a total of 50 TDs (40 passing, 10 rushing), accounting for over 3700 yards in 14 games (28 PPG).
It’s always difficult to assess the value of QBs for CFF. Of the above names that we covered (CJ Stroud and Justin Fields), was it worth it to draft either in the ranges that they went? Not really. Fields’ 30 PPG in 2019 was nice, but as someone who did, in fact, draft him at the end of a first round (this was pre-VP philosophy), I would say that he was not worth that pick. I would have preferred an elite RB or even WR, and there were many QBs available in waivers that could net me the same PPG average at a cheaper price.
Focusing specifically on Howard, I think the critical question is: will Day let Howard run it like he did with Fields? If not, there is next to no chance in my opinion that Howard will be an elite CFF QB. That basically means (in standard CFF re-draft formats), that there is no need to draft him prior to the double digit rounds, if you even draft him at all.
My guess is that Howard will be more of a 20-25 PPG player than a 30+ PPG player at OSU, however, this is something to revisit at a later date, when there is more indication on what the plan for Howard is. OSU also brought in Quinshon Judkins, and as of the time that I am writing this, still has TreVeyon Henderson rostered. So the 2024 outfit could resemble much more that of a mid-2000s Buckeye squad than what we’ve witnessed lately. That would spell trouble for the QB position.
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