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What NFL quarterback competitions can teach us about Ohio State's

With three outstanding options for the quarterback position at Ohio State, we're taking a look at how pro teams have handled quarterback competitions in the NFL.

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The eyes of the college football world are (and have been for some time) resting on the quarterback competition at Ohio State between Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. All have started before with great success for the Buckeyes, and none among them lost his job due to poor performance. Miller and Barrett were both injured in succession, but not before Miller was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Barrett broke numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records. Jones, who has only started three games, won those three games against arguably the best competition Ohio State has faced under Urban Meyer, including defeating Oregon to win the College Football Playoff. How Meyer will decide amongst the three remains a mystery, but it does bring to mind how other teams, mainly in the NFL, have dealt with injuries at quarterback—and what they do when the backup succeeds.

Brady vs. Bledsoe

It’s difficult to remember a time in which Tom Brady wasn’t the winningest quarterback in the universe. But, if we think hard enough, we will remember a time when he was a "scrawny-looking kid" coming off the bench to replace an injured Drew Bledsoe in game two of the 2001 season. However, the Patriots had taken Bledsoe at the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft. He began the 2001 season by signing a 10 year, $103 million contract with the Patriots. Given that Brady played the majority of the 2001 season including all 11 wins, it was clear that he had won the starting job over his wounded predecessor. The Patriots ultimately avoided a quarterback controversy by trading Bledsoe to the Bills at the end of the season. The rest is history.

Luck vs. Manning

"Suck for Luck" was the mantra of many uncertain Colts fans during the 2011 season, as the 2-14 team rotated among Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins at quarterback following Peyton Manning’s offseason neck surgeries. It was clear that the Colts had already made the decision about the future of their franchise early that season, and that Manning was not going to be a part of it. The uncertainty surrounding his injury, and what it would mean for his future with the Colts, made it easier to commit to Luck who, like Manning, was a once-in-a-decade player and who could easily fit into the Colts’ scheme and be a winner from day one. The Colts, like the Patriots, released Manning at the end of the 2011 season, thus avoiding a competition.

Rodgers vs. Favre

After being selected No. 24 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, Aaron Rodgers warmed the bench for three seasons as the world awaited Brett Favre’s inevitable retirement. Following Rodgers’ rookie season, however, Packers’ head coach Mike Sherman was fired, to be replaced by Mike McCarthy. Rodgers used his time as the backup to learn McCarthy’s new system and to improve in many aspects of his game on the practice field. When Brett Favre announced his retirement following the 2007 season, Rodgers became the starter. When Favre changed his mind, the Packers stuck with the young slinger, sending Favre to the Jets. The Packers recognized that Favre’s days as an effective starter were numbered. They had almost lost Rodgers to free agency the year before, and couldn’t risk another team picking up someone so groomed to be the next starter for Green Bay.

Brees vs. Rivers

Drew Brees defeated Doug Flutie in a quarterback competition prior to the start of Brees’s second season in San Diego. However, two years later, the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers No. 4 overall. As Rivers held out for his contract through training camp, Brees remained the starter for San Diego, ultimately leading to a Pro Bowl season for Brees. At the end of the 2005 season, however, Brees suffered a torn labrum, leading to contract disputes and, ultimately, the revelation that San Diego was sticking with Rivers as their man. Brees went to New Orleans and won a Super Bowl, continuing to break major NFL records. Rivers has been no slouch with the Chargers, but it is interesting that they cut a relatively young Brees loose so quickly.

Wilson vs. Flynn

Matt Flynn was a smart man. Following an epic series of games replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Flynn received his payday in the offseason when he was traded to Seattle and signed a $26 million contract. It was a golden opportunity—Flynn had bided his time, learning from the best, then shined on the field when it counted. Then Seattle drafted Russell Wilson, and Flynn became the best-paid backup in the NFL. Following Wilson’s 11-win regular season, Flynn was traded to the Raiders with the expectation that he would be their starter. He eventually wound up backing up Terrelle Pryor and, after a disappointing performance coming off the bench, he was demoted to third string and, ultimately, cut. In essence, Flynn avoided a direct competition with Rodgers, only to come up short against both Pryor and Wilson.

One of the more prominent instances of such quarterback battles in college include Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at Oklahoma. Bradford was injured in his first game of his junior season following his Heisman-winning sophomore year. Jones stepped in and had several outstanding games before Bradford recovered and was put back in. Jones remained a backup until Bradford reinjured his shoulder, opted for season-ending surgery and declared for the 2010 NFL Draft. In this case, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma chose to keep with his proven starter rather than his young quarterback, at least until Bradford was reinjured.

The more common instance in college is similar to Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida or Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine at Ohio State. Though neither of the starters (Leak and Jackson) were injured, their backups (Tebow and Germaine) brought a new dimension to the game that threw off defenses, such as when Germaine led the Buckeyes to a game winning drive in the 1997 Rose Bowl Game against Arizona State. The backups ultimately got their chance to start, but had additional time to be groomed into better quarterbacks before being thrown in as starters.

In the pros, teams have tended to avoid direct competition, even among superstars, to determine who will be their starting quarterback. For college teams, however, there have been few opportunities for battles among quarterbacks, especially due to injury.

In college football, players are limited to five years of eligibility with a redshirt, and a great majority don’t start until several years in. There isn’t a lot of experience to draw on for how to handle quarterback competitions among standout quarterbacks, like the situation at Ohio State. While there are certainly numerous competitions among relatively unknown or mediocre quarterbacks, what is unique about these situations is that the established starters had success before being supplanted, often by injury, by backups who then experienced success at their level. It is rare to have such a situation in college.

Senior quarterbacks who get hurt either don’t return due to injury, such as Taylor Martinez at Nebraska, or come back to split time with their backups (assuming the backups do well) like Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton. Some who experience minor injuries may leave for the NFL rather than run the risk of making an injury worse in college, such as Sam Bradford. Many college backups last played in high school and have no experience in the faster-paced college game. In short, there simply are not a lot of cases where two—let alone three—outstanding quarterbacks had to compete for a starting position at the college level.