Last August, J.W. Walsh emerged as OSU’s stealth candidate at quarterback.
This August, Walsh flew as the primary candidate.
And he’ll enter the season opener Saturday against Florida State as the starter.
From there, however, who knows how the position will play out?
It’s Walsh’s job to lose, for sure. But then, it was his job to lose – which he did – after temporarily claiming it from Clint Chelf a year ago.
Still, the hope within the program is that he’s ready to thrive in the position entering just his junior season.
Yet there’s some fear, too, that Walsh’s 2013 flaws of inconsistency and limited arm strength and shaky decision making return as a storyline. And along with that, there’s curiosity of what exactly the Cowboys have in backup quarterbacks Daxx Garman and Mason Rudolph.
And that curiosity is likely to be explored.
The only questions are how seriously; and with what urgency?
Walsh earns high praise as a leader and a winner. And those are coveted qualities.
And he was won.
Going forward, to keep winning and to keep his grasp on the job, here are some vital factors in play:
Head Game. Walsh had the Cowboys at 4-1 and ahead in another game a year ago, when a goal-line interception against TCU brought an end to his starter status. In an earlier loss at West Virginia, he audibled to a fade pass that was picked off, flipping the momentum of that game away from OSU. And that pick against TCU – his second of the game and his fifth of the season – were enough for Cowboys coaches. This time around, he’ll need to be much wiser and more efficient.
Hill Thrills. Tyreek Hill is the kind of talent that can change game plans – for his offense and enemy defenses. If Hill is as good as believed, commanding major attention, he could relieve his quarterback of significant pressure to make more than his share of plays.
Line Dancing. OSU is in transition on the offensive front, with three new and young starters occupying the right side of the line, center included. The early returns on that unit have been favorable, although proven game production simply is missing. Depth is an issue, too.
For Walsh to think and operate cleanly, protection and time is necessary.
Pacing and Spacing. The best recipe for Walsh appears to be an offense with the pedal pushed all the way to the floor. Spread the field, get the ball out quick and distribute the ball to playmakers. And do it again. Fast. That makes things easier on Walsh and the line. Hill benefits, too.
Square Peg. Let’s be honest, Walsh isn’t the ideal fit for what OSU wants in its spread. He was recruited on the heels of Zac Robinson, before Brandon Weeden showed us all how the Air Raid operates optimally. Walsh can throw on the run and make plays with his legs, yet doesn’t quite have the gun to sit in the pocket and work the entire field. And that takes some wideouts, which may be OSU’s best weapons, off the board for any given play.
Other Opportunities. Garman and Rudolph have stronger and more accurate arms. What they don’t have is experience. And that unknown, coupled with an opponent like the Seminoles, doesn’t add up to another stealth candidate in the opener. But the weeks that follow, offering Missouri State and UTSA, could serve to quench curiosities about what the Cowboys have in Garman and even Rudolph.
Walsh’s play will ultimately determine who’s behind center in Week 4. And 7. And 10.
It’s his job to lose.
But in some respect, it’s still his job to win.