There may be some alternative reality where Cardale Jones never makes it. Where he doesn't survive East Cleveland, where he never makes it to Ohio State, where, when forced into game action by injury, he fails.
And no one would probably question that reality, because it's predictable and all too common. But that's not our reality.
On Saturday, Cardale Jones will once again be the starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes -- thrust into the role because of J.T. Barrett's unfortunate, but deserved, suspension.
In doing so, Jones will continue one of college football's greatest magic tricks - his transformation from a malcontent to one of the most reliable players on the Buckeye roster. An on Saturday, he'll once again be one of the most important Buckeyes on the field.
Year: RS Junior
Weight 250 lbs.
Current stat line: 7 TDs, 5 INT, 1266 yards, 141.7 RAT, 128 rushing yards, 1 TD
The game situation
It's hard to explain how we got here. Jones became a folk hero while leading the Buckeye to a national championship last year and managed to hold the starting job for seven games into the 2015 season.
The stats were far from bad and the team remained undefeated, but the offensive never seemed to fire at the efficiency level expected.
It finally seemed to click with J.T. Barrett's added running dimension and Urban Meyer made the full-time switch in time for a 49-7 route of Rutgers. But then came a bye week, a OVI/arrest/suspension, and once again it's Cardale's show. Except this time, there's no looking over his shoulder -- at least for this game.
His newest opportunity comes against a Minnesota team ranked 24th in total S&P+, and who features one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten.
What to watch for
Jones is at his best when he's having fun on the football field. Is there a more joyous moment in college football this year than this?
Now, Jones is nowhere near the runner Barrett is, but that doesn't mean he's a statue. Expect to see less zone reads, and more iso's/power. When Jones gets his 250 lbs self moving, he's shown he can be a threat to keep the chains moving.
The bye week gave the Buckeyes a chance to rest and heal, but where it might be most helpful to Jones and the Buckeye offense is in giving the WR unit another week to develop. Devin Smith and Evan Spencer were significant losses for both their blocking ability and their ability to win the deep ball. With injuries piling up in the unit, Michael Thomas/Braxton Miller/Jalin Marshall have no place to hide. This is an offense that runs best when Jones is getting the ball to playmakers outside the hashes and letting them go.
If Miller and Marshall show they can be consistent deep threats, then the Buckeyes will finally be able to utilize Jones' full skill set.
To get the best from Cardale, you're going to have to live with the bad - throws off the back foot, accuracy issues, broken plays. While frustrating, these flaws alone aren't killers in a football game, especially if the rest of the team continues to execute at a high level. Now, if they manifest themselves as turnovers or drive-killing penalties, that's another story, but there's a looseness to Jones' game that can be oh so beautiful (see any of his three starts last year).
With no pressure from a backup, at least for this week, expect loose Cardale to reemerge. Loose Cardale is fun Cardale. And fun Cardale is good for the Buckeyes. It means Big Plays.
With a little help from his receiving corp, look for Jones to play his best game of the season and keep that QB battle going for a few more weeks.