Urban Meyer really can’t go wrong with his decision for the starting quarterback position. Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are all outstanding quarterbacks who bring something different to the field when they play, whether it is a slippery running ability, high-level field vision, or a strong and accurate arm. And Meyer has made all of these traits work at one time or another in his scheme. What differentiates these quarterbacks comes when we consider the players and circumstances surrounding each player, which is why Cardale Jones should be the clear winner for the starting spot for the 2015 season.
By unfortunate chance, Jones is the only quarterback of the three to be able to practice fully this spring, giving him more pre-season reps than he has ever had before with the first team. Essentially, this is the offseason he never had prior to being placed in the starting job at the end of last season. He has an opportunity to be even more prepared than he was last year sitting on the sidelines, and has a chance to pull ahead physically from Miller and Barrett. Overall, spring practice means 15 more chances to see the field, including in the Spring Game, than Miller and Barrett.
Further, Jones is durable as far as quarterbacks go. With Miller and Barrett having already sustained injuries, they do face increased risk to re-injure, as happened to Miller last season. Jones is fit and healthy currently, playing all but two snaps at quarterback during his three starts (those snaps being taken by Jalin Marshall and Evan Spencer). Further, he carried the ball 17 times against Alabama and 21 against Oregon, comparable numbers to Barrett’s carries for the 2014 season, though Jones’ average was significantly lower than Barrett’s.
Jones certainly has the biggest arm of the group, but in no way lacks in mobility. While he is not as slippery as Miller and lacks the vision of Barrett, he does have the ability to bulldoze defenders over. He is a behemoth at 6’5" 249 pounds, making him difficult to take down, especially in short yardage situations. Oregon certainly remembers his elusiveness during the 4th and 1 run in the third quarter of the National Championship. Plus, check out this graceful move from the Maryland game:
As mentioned before, Jones is the best true passer of the three. Some might say that the loss of downfield threat Devin Smith to the NFL draft this year might force Ohio State to rely more on a mobile quarterback. However, as is the case with the quarterback position, Meyer has many options for down-the-field receiving threats. In fact, with the exception of the Penn State game, the Buckeyes had at least two receivers with 20+ yard receptions in every game. Michael Thomas and Corey Smith, in particular, were deep threats in several games last season and are returning this year. Combined with Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson at halfback and Ezekiel Elliot at running back, as well as Jones’s ability to rush in short-yardage situations, Ohio State has a dynamic group of threats with which to stretch any defense thin.
While all of three quarterbacks are proven winners, Miller with a 22-2 record under Meyer, Barrett at 11-1, Jones is 3-0 against arguably the best teams Ohio State has faced in the Meyer era. Miller’s only two losses as a starter in the Urban-era both came in the 2013 postseason to a very good Michigan State team in the Big 10 Championship and another great Clemson team in the Orange Bowl, while Barrett’s only loss came against Virginia Tech in only his second start. All three of these games were nationally televised games at primetime, so for many casual sports fans, these games were some of the few times they would see Miller and Barrett play.
Despite these losses, Miller and Barrett’s records as starters are truly outstanding in themselves. Barrett’s best win over then 7th-ranked Michigan State at primetime was a huge victory in that it re-established Ohio State as a competitor on the national stage and began to erase the doubts in place since the loss to Virginia Tech. Similarly, Braxton Miller’s routing of Nebraska in 2012 positioned Ohio State at the top of the Big 10, despite a postseason ban.
However, none of these victories are on the level of Jones’, all of which came in postseason, primetime games against the final AP ranked 2, 4 and 13 teams in the country. Any of these victories would be a signature win for a college football quarterback, and Jones has three of them.
Now, we can’t credit Jones alone for his victories, or blame Miller and Barrett solely for their losses. The fact remains that no matter who is at quarterback for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have perhaps the most dynamic and potent offense in the nation.