Way back in November, we published a detailed look ahead at Ohio State's QB depth chart for the 2015-16 season. A lot has changed. Going into the Michigan game, the big question was whether J.T. Barrett would supplant Braxton Miller next year as Ohio State's starting QB. Barrett shattered Big Ten and Ohio State records for TDs and total offense and was closing in on an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
But then Barrett went down, and Cardale Jones stepped in as the next man up. All he did was hang 59 on Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, defeat number one Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and overcome four turnovers to beat Oregon in the College Playoff National Championship. Third-string, indeed.
Now Ohio State has a logjam at QB1. Barrett is still scooting around the sidelines, so he's probably not leaving the program any time soon. Cardale Jones has officially declared he's returning to Ohio State to complete his education. Miller has reportedly not decided what to do next year (although he's never definitively said he's not coming back). He hasn't declared for the draft, but he could exercise his graduate option to transfer to another school and play immediately for one year.
Waiting in the wings are Torrance Gibson, Ohio State's highly touted and acclaimed dual-threat QB recruit, Stephen Collier, the Buckeyes' current fourth stringer, and Joe Burrow, another 2015 commit. Its an embarrassment of riches right now.
Something's got to give here, and its likely that something will break loose soon as deadlines start arriving.
Based on the smoke that's out there, one possible scenario -- that while certainly bad for Columbus area watercoolers could make a tough decision a bit easier -- would be Braxton Miller transferring. Buckeye faithful will be forever indebted to Miller for guiding us through the forgettable 2011 6-7 season, giving them something to cheer for when the team largely looked lost. Miller (with occasional help from Kenny Guiton) led Ohio State to its undefeated season in 2012 and an undefeated conference slate in 2013. When Ohio State didn't have apparent playmakers, Miller shimmied and sprinted his way to success, carrying the whole team with him.
But Miller's arm and accuracy have always left something to be desired, and he's shown himself to be fragile. Ohio State now has younger, more durable QBs (J.T. Barrett aside) who are able to throw longer and more accurate passes. Braxton deserves all the praise in the world for his work at Ohio State, but for the good of the team and himself alike, he may need to consider a change of scenery.
There are tons of college programs that would love to bring Miller on for a year, under the Russell Wilson plan. Miller would get the opportunity to show he's still got the arm talent, speed, and shiftiness to succeed under center, and a team with a QB gap gets a veteran to teach its youngsters the ways of the world and a chance at a great season. Oregon and Florida State are obvious landing spots, but Texas, LSU, and Duke have also been floated as potential suitors.
Miller moving on would potentially let Cardale Jones shine next season. Assuming a head-to-head battle shakes out early, Jones would get the majority of the first team reps all spring, valuable experience learning how to read defenses, to go through progressions, and to throw the shorter passes an NFL quarterback needs. Jones has extraordinary poise and confidence already, and an extra year of development would make him a fantastic NFL prospect, in the mold of Big Ben Roethlisberger or Andrew Luck. Mel Kiper's placed him in the second round already - another year of success could make Jones a Heisman candidate and top draft pick.
Jones has earned the right to lead this Ohio State team after this year's post-season performance, and his skill set has proven to compliment Ohio State's strengths very well. His strong running style opens up the game for Ezekiel Elliott, and his long-range weapon of an arm allows the Buckeyes to capitalize on the speed of deep threats like Devin Smith (and whoever steps into that role next year). Cardale has also shown that he's durable and cool under pressure, skills that will be needed in a more competitive Big Ten next year.
Jones at QB1 next year puts Barrett as the backup. But just for one year. Assuming Jones performs next season as we expect, he can head for the NFL draft after his junior year (and with his college education complete, as that will be his fourth year at OSU), likely as a first- or second-round pick. Barrett can step back into the leading role for his last year or two (NFL decision depending), before the reins are handed to the new recruits. Everyone gets their proper chance at the driver's seat.
The most likely outcome
Miller's transfer is a real possibility, but there's a good chance he stays at OSU, too. If Miller, Jones and Barrett each decide to continue at Ohio State, there's going to be an insane amount of controversy come spring practice. Tom Herman, offensive coordinator emeritus, said Thursday on SVP & Russillo that if all three came back there would likely be a heated three-way competition for the starting job.
Braxton has always been the presumed leader of this pack, but both backups have shown the ability to run this offense just as effectively. Unless there's a clear winner by the Spring Game, we could head into the fall with a quarterback controversy, which might just serve no one.
Knowing there's a proven quantity chomping at the bit behind you can instill the killer instinct in some players, but it can just as easily sap confidence (see the Hoyer/Manziel debacle early this year in the NFL). Six QBs on the roster is also taking up valuable scholarship space that could be spent elsewhere, either on a recruit at a different position or on a deserving walk-on. And a quarterback controversy can lead to an unfocused, unaligned offense -- each player brings different skills to the position, and the rest of the offense can't be expected to switch styles depending on who's in the game. Three returning QB successes could be a recipe for disaster.
It's impossible to say what conversations are taking place behind closed doors with regard to the quarterback situation, but if no one's readily stepping aside, I don't envy Urban Meyer's task of sorting this one out. Like the Highlander, there can be only one Buckeye QB1 --- let's hope the Buckeyes make the right choice.