Justin Fields Has a Bright Future, but 2020's Missed Opportunities Will Sting

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2020

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Justin Fields will be OK.

Let's start at the conclusion to avoid any misgivings about the premise. He's an ultra-talented quarterback who is soon headed to the NFL. Fields will have a chance to become the face of a franchise and put together a long, successful professional career.

But right now, as with hundreds of other college football players who aren't suiting up this fall, it hurts.

"It" is not playing a season in 2020something that seemed unconscionable as 2019 ended. Not guiding Ohio State's run at a Big Ten or national championship. Not taking the field with his teammates. Not showing off an improved skill here or there. Not having the expected chance to build his profile for the 2021 NFL draft.

Nevertheless, at least as he fights for the Big Ten to reverse its decision, Fields can remember he did everything he couldunlike a season not permitting even that.

Personal opinions about the current world situation vary dramatically. We're not interested in discussing the "why" of what's happening or whether the cancellation was a good choice. In this space—at this moment—the focus is on what a talented athlete no longer has a chance to pursue.

Without a doubt, Fields would first mention Ohio State's team goals.

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As three-time reigning Big Ten champions, the Buckeyes have solidified themselves as the class of the conference. They would've entered the 2020 campaign as the favorites in the league ahead of Penn State, Wisconsin and rival Michigan.

Ohio State reached the College Football Playoff last season, but it ended on a bitterly disappointing note. Trailing 29-23 in the final minute of regulation against Clemson in the semifinals, a miscommunication between Fields and Chris Olave resulted in an interception. Clemson advanced to the national championship.

Even after Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, J.K. Dobbins and others headed to the NFL, the 2020 Buckeyes were built to appear on the sport's biggest stage once again.

"This team is special," head coach Ryan Day said, per Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch. "It's special because it's talented. It's special because it has leadership. It's special because of the character. It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime team."

Fields would have headlined the "special" roster with an eye on eclipsing the 2019 team's accomplishments. Instead, there will be no redemption for this moment.

The junior signal-caller would've been in position to thrive.

Ohio State returned three All-Big Ten performers on the offensive line, including All-American right guard Wyatt Davis. Running back Master Teague III and Olave both earned All-Big Ten honors last year, and wideout Garrett Wilson has that upside.

It's entirely reasonable to say Fields could've surpassed his 2019 production this fall. Considering what he accomplished last year, that's pretty incredible.

Fields completed 67.2 percent of his passes while averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. He racked up 3,273 passing yards with 41 touchdowns to three interceptions, also running for 484 yards and 10 scores. Those numbers could've been much higher, yet Ohio State dominated so many games that he often didn't play in the fourth quarter—and sometimes even the third.

He trailed only LSU's Joe Burrow and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in Heisman Trophy voting. While most players would take a national title over an individual award, that's still a big deal. Fields neared 2020 as the co-favorite with Clemson star Trevor Lawrence.

That only seemed fitting given the history between these two quarterbacks.

Lawrence and Fields ended the 2018 recruiting cycle as the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects. They faced off in the Fiesta Bowl. Lawrence won both of those battles, but 2020 offered Fields a chance to write a new chapter. Now, though, he's no longer part of the Heisman race. And that's not helping his case for No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, either.

Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields after the Fiesta Bowl.
Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields after the Fiesta Bowl.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Along with North Dakota State standout Trey Lance, Lawrence and Fields are considered the best draft-eligible quarterbacks. Lawrence will lead Clemson this fall in a full slate of games, and Lance has one opportunity against Central Arkansas in October in NDSU's lone 2020 matchup.

Fields won't have a spotlight until the spring. Perhaps it won't have a big impact on his perception relative to Lawrence and Lance, but we can't confidently say the opposite is impossible.

Yes, he technically could stay in college for 2021. However, it'd be stunning if Fields throws another pass at Ohio State. He's already a top player, and a theoretical spring season in February, March and April overlaps a critical time for draft prospects.

From a value perspective, there is no sense in entertaining that risk.

Long-term, Fields will be OK. He's a likely first-round selection and will sign a hefty contract to play quarterback in the NFL. The lost season cannot steal that from Fields.

But a promising future merely dulls the disappointment of no championship chase and no race for an individual award. All that's left is an indirect competition with a familiar, friendly nemesisone who gets to pursue everything Fields is missing out on in 2020.

Editor's note: This article has been updated after news the Big Ten is still considering a fall season           

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.