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Ohio State Football: Which QB Is Under Most Pressure to Win Starting Job?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJuly 17, 2015

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Braxton Miller's decision to stay at Ohio State, quelling months-long transfer rumblings once and for all, was the best thing that could have happened to the Buckeyes' quarterback competition. 

For that matter, it's one of the best things that could have happened to college football. Why? One of the single best storylines in the sport this year is a full go. It is, as they say, officially on with Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

The circumstances are rare: A defending national champion with great odds to repeat is hosting a high-profile position battle with not two, but three players who could probably start, and win, anywhere. It doesn't get much more dramatic than that. 

But while Ohio State's three-man race for the starting job is great football theater, it also has an unfortunate side, which is that two deserving, talented players are going to be disappointed with the outcome. Competing is part of football, and all three players agreed to the possibility of not starting when they opted to return for the 2015 season. That won't make the inevitable sting any less painful for two of them, however. 

Since we've seen what all three can do, and the kind of people they can be, there's a good amount of empathy for them in this scenario. Ultimately, though, head coach Urban Meyer must determine who's going to give this team the best chance to repeat as national champs. 

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Undoubtedly, Jones is the quarterback feeling the most pressure to get that nod. 

Before continuing further, let's dive into why Miller and Barrett aren't feeling the same level of pressure (which isn't to say they aren't feeling pressure at all, because they are). 

Miller, first of all, is a Buckeye through and through. He's a son of Ohio who wants his own son to one day experience life at Ohio State. Miller has gone through a coaching change and a season-ending shoulder injury. Plenty of other players would have opted to finish their career elsewhere. In this day and age where major college football is a gateway to the NFL, you can hardly blame them for doing what's best for their future.  

Yet, despite all of that, here's Miller, ready to finish out his career in the same place he started. 

BRAXTON MILLER @BraxtonMiller5

http://t.co/eQXHBp979l

Elika Sadeghi @steakNstiffarms

Are we really that shocked an Ohio native, with an OSU tattoo, a child in Ohio, and a history of loyalty to the Buckeyes decided to stay?

Whether Miller wins the quarterback job or not, or potentially switches to another position, he's decided that finishing his career at Ohio State is more important than anything.

Barrett's situation has been far more clear-cut from the beginning. Of the three quarterbacks, the redshirt sophomore hasn't been associated with the same type of life-altering dilemmas as Miller or Jones. He's also the guy with the most eligibility remaining. Given how young he is and that he's already been thrown into a tough situation—a situation in which he thrived, need we remind you—the odds of him starting again before his college career is up seem promising. 

Which leads us back to Jones. There aren't many other ways to put it: It's incredible that such a prominent athlete over the past six months could be sitting on the bench in Week 1. Yet that's a very real possibility. 

Jones' postseason run last season is well-documented. It was so remarkable, in fact, that Jones had the chance to ride that momentum straight into the 2015 NFL draft—and it wouldn't have been that crazy. He would have been a development project, for sure, but plenty of teams would have taken a shot on a 6'5", 250-pound quarterback who can chuck the ball three-quarters of a football field. They've done it before with far worse players. 

Land-Grant Holy Land @Landgrant33

Oh, just Cardale Jones slinging a ball 74 yards: http://t.co/Pdvi48ZP6M

Regardless of how that pro career would have worked out, Jones would have been earning a paycheck for his services. The allure of that immediate financial change, even if only for a few years, is tough to ignore, especially if it means a better life for your family. 

However, Jones opted to return to school with a "goal to graduate," according to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel. That was his decision alone to make, and it certainly can't be criticized. And as the only quarterback of the trio to be 100 percent healthy during the spring, Jones received valuable reps to build off of his end-of-season run. 

Still, Jones is moving forward with the mentality that he has the most to prove of anyone, as explained in this interview with Austin Ward of ESPN.com last month: 

I haven’t proven anything yet. I haven’t proven anything to myself, my teammates, my coaches to label myself as a starter. That’s my opinion, my personal opinion.

...

I’m working harder than ever. I understand that I want to be the starting quarterback of this team, but I know I have two guys in front of me who are working just as hard.

Jones isn't alone in that mindset. Barrett's father's even told Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, "If Braxton hadn’t gotten hurt, I would still be waiting for my baby to get the chance to play... In other words, Braxton should get that position back, then everybody else should go try to take it from him." 

The heart may say one thing, but analytics says another. Prediction Machine's John Ewing recently ran 50,000 simulations for Ohio State's quarterback dilemma and determined that Barrett, who had record-setting numbers in 2014, should start again this season:  

Regardless of which quarterback starts, the Buckeyes win more than 11 games on average. Ohio State finishes with the best record in the Big Ten and the FBS in each simulation. Ohio State is No. 1 in our Power Rankings whether Miller, Barrett or Jones is the first team quarterback.

By the numbers, if we had to make Urban Meyer's decision for him, Barrett would be the starter. Ohio State is a more efficient offensively, both passing and rushing the ball, with Barrett under center. The difference between Barrett and Miller starting for Ohio State is nearly a field goal per game. 

So, where does Jones fit in all of this? For as visible as he's been this offseason, throwing out first pitches and flirting with everyone at the ESPYs, there seems to be a growing feeling that he'll still be a backup at the end of preseason camp. 

That might be just a feeling and nothing more, but what a turnaround that would be for the guy who was on the field when Ohio State won it all. 

But Jones can't worry about that. All he can do—all any of Ohio State's quarterbacks can do—is continue to improve. Jones may be facing the most pressure of anyone in the trio, but he has to channel that pressure into being a better overall player. 

That's what will make up one-third of the most compelling quarterback battle in 2015. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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