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Looking to a Legendary Precedent for Will Howard

Will Howard is set to lead Ohio State in 2024. Could he take a fifth-year leap similar to one we saw five short years ago?
will howard

The best thing about sports is that insane, unpredictable things happen yearly. In college football, while the cream always rises to the top, there will always be those underdog stories. Comparing Ohio State to an underdog is a tad…misguided. However, one of the few dents in the armor that is the 2024 edition of the Buckeyes is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Will Howard looks like he’s the favorite to be the next starter in the scarlet and gray. Despite the supporting cast, Howard is being overlooked.

Heading into 2024, Howard has been at the collegiate level for four years and has looked to what could be greener pastures. He’s coming off a good-not-great season and has an absolutely loaded supporting cast. It doesn’t take too much brainpower to think back to another quarterback with a similar production and situation.

Will Ohio State’s Howard have a 2019 LSU Joe Burrow-like jump?

A Legendary Precedent for Will Howard’s Expectations

Similar Production

In possibly the most surface-level piece of analysis, one could look at the stats of both Howard and Burrow heading into their fifth seasons. Howard is coming off a season where he threw for 2,643 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 61.3% of his passes and turning the ball over 10 times. Burrow, on the other hand, posted 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 57.8% and throwing five interceptions in 2018.

The two seasons are impressively comparable. Burrow threw for more yardage and fewer interceptions while Howard had a better completion percentage and more touchdowns. Additionally, Burrow actually attempted 22 more passes than Howard.

When thinking back to Burrow’s first season at LSU, it was pedestrian. The 2018 season was nothing special and it’s widely accepted that the Burrow that took over college football didn’t exist until he was the victim of a dirty hit in the Fiesta Bowl.

In terms of careers, Howard has a significant edge over pre-2019 Burrow. In the four years leading up to that 2019 season, Burrow threw for 3,154 yards and 18 touchdowns. Meanwhile, in four years at Kansas State, Howard threw for 5,786 yards and 48 touchdowns.

There’s no question that Howard is significantly more experienced than Burrow; he’s even won a conference championship. The biggest question is whether or not Howard has hit his ceiling. Burrow proved that he had not despite not providing much to support the idea.

Ridiculous Weapons and Supporting Cast

That 2019 LSU squad is among the most elite teams ever fielded. Burrow was the cherry on top of an NFL-laden roster. In the following draft, LSU had 14 players selected with five first-round picks. In the 2021 draft, the Tigers sent seven players which included a top-five pick. The 2022 draft had another top-three pick to go with 10 total selections. The LSU roster was loaded from top to bottom.

Now, some of those players are among the best in the NFL. Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson are widely regarded as two of the top three receivers at worst. Derek Stingley, Jr. was a true freshman in 2019 when he hauled in six interceptions before ending up as a top-three pick in 2022.

While the offensive weapons discussion may lean in favor of LSU (for now), the Ohio State defense is set to be better than what LSU fielded. Ohio State had, conservatively, a dozen players return instead of pursuing the draft and most reside on defense. Realistically, the thing that will hold Howard back in this discussion will be the fact he won’t have to play hero ball due to a weak defense.

The New Offense

It’s asinine to project careers but the Buckeyes appear to have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. Emeka Egbuka is projected to be a first-round talent. Jeremiah Smith could be a freshman phenom never before seen in Columbus. Not to mention the handful of four and five-star receivers waiting in the wings.

Perhaps a factor that could both help and hurt Howard is the strength at running back. On one hand, Chip Kelly’s offense loves to run the ball and Ohio State has two NFL running backs. On the other, defenses will have to respect the duo and open things up for the passing offense.

Burrow’s Level is a High Bar to Clear

There is a very real possibility that a year-four Burrow to year-five Burrow jump is not going to be anything we will see again. In the NFL, every team with an underachieving quarterback looks to Josh Allen. With the Buffalo Bills, Allen’s developmental jump from year two to year three was unprecedented. Usually, in the NFL, that massive jump occurs between the rookie year and the second year. Burrow was one of those such players.

In college football, quarterbacks have broken out with less. Every year, we see a player with a dozen passes to his name go off for 3,000+ yards. However, 18 players in FBS history have thrown for over 5,000 years. It’s happened only once since Burrow’s Heisman campaign and it was by a guy who threw the ball 687 times (Bailey Zappe, 2021). If Howard is going to get close, he’s going to have to be efficient. Combined, the most any Kelly-led college offense threw the ball in a single season was 426 in 2019.

Howard could certainly be in for a career-best season. The bar might be too high.

Can Howard have a Burrow-like jump in 2024? It’s possible but, overall, improbable. The pieces are there for Howard. However, it’s going to be up to him whether or not he’s remembered in a similar sense.

will howard
Photo courtesy: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

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