COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of all of the words that Urban Meyer has spoken about Ohio State's once-unprecedented quarterback competition this offseason, perhaps the most telling came a few weeks back during an interview with the Columbus Dispatch.
“I feel a tremendous obligation—me personally as the head coach at Ohio State—to Braxton Miller and his family. Absolutely,” Meyer told the Dispatch's Tim May. “I think obligation is a key word. Absolutely I have an obligation to Braxton’s family. I also have an obligation to J.T. [Barrett] and his family, and to Cardale [Jones].”
While the Buckeyes head coach declined to define what exactly he meant by "obligation," it's probably a safe assumption that some sort of playing time would be attached. For Miller, it turns out that will be met in the form of a position change, with the two-time Big Ten MVP's announcement that he'll be moving from quarterback to wide receiver in the 2015 season.
And with that, the most talked-about position battle in all of college football shrunk from three players to two. But even with Miller out of the picture as far as playing quarterback is concerned, that still leaves Meyer with an obligation to two players for one position, with the start of fall camp a mere two weeks away.
So how will the three-time national champion head coach manage to make good on doing right by his two remaining competing signal-callers?
The answer appears much clearer than it did just a week ago.
When Jones announced his intention to return to Ohio State for his junior season just three days removed from the Buckeyes' national championship victory over Oregon in January, he did so admitting Meyer never promised that he'd reclaim his starting job.
"I thought it all through," Jones insisted at the time. "The chances [of being a first-round draft pick] are slim. Football has always been a stepping stone for my education."
And that may be the case—although one could argue that those slim first-round chances would've been realized in what was ultimately a weak 2015 quarterback draft class—but the reality remains Jones passed on millions of dollars to return to Columbus for his junior season. It's hard to imagine the 6'5", 250-pounder wouldn't have been the third quarterback picked last spring after Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were selected with the draft's first two picks, especially considering a third signal-caller didn't come off the board until the third round.
Fortunately for Jones, most draft analysts project him to make the most out of his return to Ohio State and be a first-round pick in 2016, including ESPN.com's Todd McShay, who placed the Cleveland native at No. 7 in his "way-too-early 2016 mock draft."
But in order to live up to his first-round billing, Jones would presumably have to first beat out Barrett, the reigning Big Ten Quarterback and National Freshman of the Year.
That, of course, will be easier said than done, especially considering the efficiency with which Barrett provided the Buckeyes offense with a season ago. In just 12 games, the redshirt freshman broke Ohio State's total offense record (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's total touchdown record (45) while leading the Buckeyes to the cusp of the College Football Playoff.
Advanced analytics even seem to favor the redshirt sophomore over Jones, with PredictionMachine.com's John Ewing projecting Barrett to be the best at running Meyer's spread offense.
And according to the man making the final call on who will start, numbers will go a long way toward determining whom his starting quarterback will be.
"I'll come up with some kind of system throughout training camp that we're going to chart everything that everyone does," Meyer said after Ohio State's April 18 spring game. "We've kind of done it, but not to the degree that we're going to do it this year. Because you have to be right on now. This can't be, 'Well, I'm going with him because it's my gut feeling.'"
But unlike Jones, Barrett's future beyond 2015 is a little more certain. And ultimately, that could work against him.
Because whether he starts or sits, it's likely that the upcoming season will be Jones' last at Ohio State, even though he technically has two years of eligibility remaining as a redshirt junior. Having spent a year after high school at a prep school, Jones will be 23 years old by the time the 2015 season comes to a close, adding urgency to his need to jump-start his professional career.
The best way for Jones to do that would be to start for the Buckeyes in 2015 and then enter the 2016 draft, a plan that he has already stated as his desired path.
As for Meyer's obligation to Barrett, he still has two more years after the upcoming season to make good on that, with the redshirt sophomore still possessing three years of eligibility. There simply isn't as much urgency when it comes to getting Barrett back on the field in the upcoming year, as he's a near-lock to be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in 2016 and 2017 should he exhaust his eligibility.
Add in the likelihood that the defending national champion Buckeyes will be playing in enough blowouts to get both quarterbacks ample playing time, and starting Jones makes even more sense. The Big Ten Championship Game MVP could improve his draft stock with the first-time, while Barrett could stay fresh throughout his sophomore campaign as he returns from the broken ankle that brought his 2014 campaign to an end.
And while that may not meet the "obligation" that Meyer truly feels to Barrett after the Wichita Falls, Texas, native helped carry the Buckeyes after Miller was lost to his season-ending injury last August, there simply may not be a way to fully satisfy all parties. Jones' and Barrett's skill sets overlap to a degree that a two-quarterback system wouldn't seem to make sense, although each player could seemingly be sprinkled in here and there as a situational runner.
Ultimately, however, it will be up to both Jones and Barrett to prove that they deserve to be on the field this fall and in what capacity.
But if Meyer's sense of obligation does come into play, Jones would seem to be the beneficiary, given that Miller—who as a fifth-year senior is facing even more urgency to play than either quarterback—has figured out how he'll be getting on the field in 2015.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.