Fifteen minutes of fame is usually dumb luck, good or bad. Sometimes, it's about someone stepping out of obscurity for one string of great feats. Cardale Jones might cap his 15 minutes by leading Ohio State to the national championship Monday night.
If so, that would make a blowout win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, followed by a gutsy win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal and then a national title win over Oregon. For a third-string quarterback who moved up twice when players in front of him got hurt, that could go down as the greatest, most impressive 15 minutes of sports fame ever.
But what should Jones do after Monday night? Go back next year and risk being a national championship-winning third-stringer who never sees the field? Transfer to another school—a growing trend in college football—to build up a resume and game-film collection for NFL teams to see? Or just go right to the NFL now?
"He has to go back,'' said Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl. Savage is also the former general manager of the Cleveland Browns and director of player personnel for the Baltimore Ravens. "Jones would be a midround developmental candidate at best.''
Just guessing here, but the key words there are "at best." Before these past three games, Jones was known mostly for his immaturity. Illinois coach Tim Beckman, a former Ohio State assistant, told me that not long ago, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer wasn't even sure he wanted Jones on the team.
So all of these stories coming out now about how Jones is growing up, well, that's a little hard to swallow considering we're talking about two decades of immaturity followed by a month-and-a-half of growth.
I'm not trying to knock Jones. He has loads of talent, a huge arm and a big, durable-looking body. And there's nothing wrong with a young man taking a little time to grow up. That's what college is for.
"He's an unbelievable talent,'' Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley, a former teammate of Jones' at Ohio State, told me. "I was not surprised at all by what he's done, honestly.
"He's a great guy. He's just kind of goofy. He's not like a jerk or anything.''
There is no reason not to believe that. But Jones is the one who, just two years ago, tweeted, "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain't come to play SCHOOL. Classes are POINTLESS."
He now tweets about loving math. Whether he means it or not, it's still a step up in maturity.
But even if he has fully changed, the problem is that he hasn't had time to prove it to NFL teams, that will have to invest in him. He also hasn't had a chance to prove what he can do on the field, not over the long run.
The talk about Ohio State's quarterback spot is over who will start next year. Everyone likes the debate of a good quarterback controversy, but Jones is in the toughest spot personally.
Starter Braxton Miller was already the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Heisman candidate when he hurt his shoulder in a preseason practice. J.T. Barrett then became the starter, played most of the year and got into Heisman talk himself until he broke his ankle in the final regular-season game against Michigan. He is also just 19 and has time to develop.
But Jones is 22 years old. And while he has two years of eligibility left, he would have to sit out a year if he transfers.
This will be a tough call for Jones. To me, he should transfer somewhere he knows he can play. He clearly wants to have an NFL career. And if academics matters to him now, he can find a good place for that, too.
But there are many personal factors for him to weigh. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy cover story about Jones, detailing his tough upbringing. According to the story, Jones does not know his dad, and his mom worked multiple jobs while he was growing up. He does not have the best relationship with her, either, and said that she only started getting involved in his life after he became a star football player.
Jones and his girlfriend also recently had a daughter. So you can't blame a guy for taking money if it's there for him and he needs it.
But it could also hurt his career if he shows up in the NFL too soon and unprepared. Jones enrolled in a military academy and then sat out a year at Ohio State just to let Miller get closer to graduating before his own clock started ticking. But when Barrett beat Jones out for the starting job this fall, according to the Sports Illustrated story, Jones said this to offensive coordinator Tom Herman:
"Dude, come on. Let's do the math here. J.T. is younger than me, he's the future right there, and you got Braxton coming back. You want me to stick around and be the third quarterback forever?''
A third-string quarterback who won the national championship, or at least played for one. True, but 15 minutes isn't enough to fill a resume.
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.