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Cardale Jones Should Be the Favorite to Start at QB for Ohio State in 2015

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2015

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After entering the gym of his high school alma mater to the anthem of Drake's "Started From the Bottom" while wearing a gray T-shirt bearing his nickname, "12 Gauge," Cardale Jones stood in front of a national audience prepared to reveal a "life-changing decision."

But when Jones finally made his announcement—which was delayed two hours to allow Columbus television stations time to arrive in Cleveland—he caught most of those waiting with bated breath off guard, as many expected the Ohio State quarterback to enter the upcoming NFL draft.

"I'm going to return next year for school," Jones announced in front of cameras from no fewer than three national TV stations. “The NFL after three games was really out of the question for me."

That may be debatable, as in the hours leading up to Jones' revealing of his decision, analysts projected that the 6'5", 250-pounder would have been selected between the second and fourth rounds of the upcoming draft.

Now, Jones heads back to a situation where he's not even guaranteed to be the Buckeyes starter, with third-team All-American J.T. Barrett expected to recover from his fractured ankle and two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller's status still up in the air.

Cardale Jones out-dueled Oregon's Marcus Mariota in Monday's national championship game.
Cardale Jones out-dueled Oregon's Marcus Mariota in Monday's national championship game.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

But while Ohio State prepares for what could be a quarterback battle for the ages, Jones will implausibly be the favorite to be the Buckeyes starter when they take the field on Sept. 7 for their 2015 season opener at Virginia Tech. Should Miller return along with Jones and Barrett, it's very possible that Ohio State's quarterback depth chart will be upside down compared to what it looked like a year prior.

That was back when Miller was the only established quarterback of the bunch and before Barrett broke the Buckeyes single-season total-offense record and the Big Ten's total-touchdowns record. But with both recovering from injuries that will hold them out of spring football, Jones will receive all of the reps with Ohio State's first team come March, giving him a leg up on both Barrett and Miller heading into fall camp.

"I can get a lot better," Jones said. "As each week and each game went on, I think I got a lot better and I progressed. With a full offseason taking reps as a [No.] 1, I think it'll make me be the best quarterback I can possibly be."

That's not all that Jones has working in his favor, either, as the redshirt junior-to-be is currently just three days removed from leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. The Cleveland native only has three starts to his credit compared to Barrett's 12 and Miller's 34, but he shined on college football's grandest stage, engineering Ohio State wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in Monday's national championship game.

And as improbable as it may have seemed when he took over the OSU offense following Barrett's season-ending injury in November, Jones may have proved to be the best fit for Urban Meyer's spread offense.

Cardale Jones proved that he's an NFL-caliber talent in Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
Cardale Jones proved that he's an NFL-caliber talent in Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Replacing Miller's elusiveness and Barrett's efficiency as runners, Jones provided a bruising but effective style that extended drives and drew comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. As a passer, Jones also proved to be the Buckeyes' best deep-ball thrower, throwing for 742 yards and five touchdowns in his three starts.

"All three of those guys are very good deep-ball throwers," Meyer said of his signal-caller stable earlier this month. "But Cardale is the first guy I've had, I want to say since [former Utah quarterback] Alex [Smith] that is up there that can high‑low a pass over the top of a defensive line, and that's rare. That's hard to find those guys."

Jones insists that he didn't receive any assurances from Meyer that he'd start, but it's hard to imagine his head coach didn't at least point out to him that this spring will give him the opportunity to build an insurmountable advantage over the other two quarterbacks vying for OSU's starting spot.

Las Vegas agrees with the notion that Jones will be the Buckeyes starter in 2015, with Bovada, via Odds Shark, listing Jones as a plus-120 favorite over Miller (plus-175) and Barrett (plus-200) to start for Ohio State in its season opener.

Although he has the smallest sample size of the Buckeyes' potential starting quarterbacks, Jones' wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon give him the three most impressive victories of any of the trio's resumes.

If the 22-year-old can take down the likes of the Crimson Tide and the Ducks, it's probably a safe assumption that he can beat up on the Big Ten in the same manner that Miller and Barrett did for the better part of the past three seasons.

On Monday, Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to its eighth national championship.
On Monday, Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to its eighth national championship.LM Otero/Associated Press/Associated Press

That's not a knock on Miller or Barrett, each of whom has provided plenty to the OSU program and whose mere presence would make any school an instant national championship contender. It's just that Jones has already proved to be the Buckeyes' best bet to capture a national title, as he's the only one of the three to have actually done it.

Regardless of how Ohio State's quarterback situation plays out, Meyer will find himself at least temporarily turning down the services of two players from a group that includes the reigning national champion quarterback, the most recent national Freshman of the Year and a two-time league MVP who was on pace to rewrite the school's record book.

From that standpoint alone, what the Buckeyes are now dealing with is unprecedented in college football.

Could that be a problem? Certainly. But it's one any coach would be happy to have. And it's also one that Jones appears to be embracing.

"I want to go back to school and compete for the spot," Jones said. "I don't want anything given to me."

With what he's accomplished in the last month, that spot may have already been earned.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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