It has been the main topic across college football since Braxton Miller was put on the shelf for the 2014 season, allowing redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to take the country by storm by posting an 11-1 record as the starter, before going down and eventually handing the reigns off to Cardale Jones, who led them through a gauntlet and a national championship.
What makes the situation even more tough for Urban Meyer and his staff is that they all bring different qualities to the table. First, they are all winners and collectively they have led the Buckeyes to a 38-3 record under Meyer, including a 12-0 season, an Orange Bowl appearance, an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff, a win over Nick Saban's Alabama squad and a national championship victory. All three possess elite leadership qualities and have faced more adversity in the past three years than any other quarterback depth chart in the country. I decided to make Meyer's decision easier, by constructing the perfect quarterback based on their different skill-sets.
This skill is closer than most would expect it to be. All three quarterbacks have their own way of sensing pressure and dealing with said pressure.
Miller does not see potential pre-snap pressure like the other two, but he does a good job of avoiding it and getting out of it with his athleticism. Miller is at his best when a play breaks down and there is chaos surrounding him. He does a good job of spinning out of a would-be-tackler and getting out of the pocket, to either make a play with his legs or his arm. One of his bigger faults when it comes to pocket presence though, is notifying a potential blitzer before the snap. Also, Miller does a poor job of taking sacks and he does not throw the ball away as much as he should. The nod would go to Miller if we were talking about eluding the rush but his lack of pre-snap smarts knock him down a peg.
For someone with limited playing experience, Jones possesses pretty good pocket presence in a variety of ways. First, he does not do an excellent job of reading blitzers pre-snap, but when he sees a potential rusher, he stays in the pocket and takes the hit while releasing the football. His big frame allows him to take hits and he is very tough to bring down. He also does a good job of throwing the ball away or he takes off running when he gets out of the pocket. Jones was sacked on five of his 92 passing attempts. The following throw shows Jones' ability to see the rusher, stay in the pocket, take the hit and deliver a perfect ball to Devin Smith.
Like any young quarterback who is facing a tough, well-coached defense in his second career start, Barrett struggled badly in his only career loss against Virginia Tech. The offensive line was in shambles due to the Bear Front that the Hokies deployed and Barrett looked well over his head when facing pressure; then he transformed into one of the cooler quarterbacks in the country, when under pressure. Since the week two debacle, he is the clear leader of this group when talking about pre-snap reads and the ability to sense blitzers. If you take out the game versus the Hokies, Barrett was sacked 16 times on 307 attempts, which is a good number for the type of offense that he plays in. He does a good job of checking to a better play when he reads the defense, which puts the offense into a better position to succeed. It really is a testament to the coaching staff and to the player for working extremely hard and becoming one of the most calm, cool and collective quarterbacks in the nation, after it seemed to fall apart in week two.
Barrett may not be able to get out of chaos like Miller, or stay in the pocket and take a big hit like Jones, but Barrett's ability to slow down the game and check out of certain plays due to his pre-snap awareness, gives him the nod.
This may be the biggest lay-up of them all, as one does not earn the nickname "12 Gauge" for no reason. The other two possess respectable arm strength, especially Miller, but Jones is the choice here.
Barrett struggled throwing the deep ball early in the season but he threw it with more confidence as the season progressed. It seems as though Barrett has enough arm strength to make all of the throws, he just needs to develop confidence in his arm to actually make the throw. With Devin Smith gone, it leaves a huge question mark downfield, which could actually benefit Barrett's short to intermediate accuracy.
Miller has no shortage of arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows and he has the ability to throw deep, especially on the run. Miller's problems are not solely arm strength though, but they come from a blend of accuracy and arm strength. He may be able to squeeze a ball into traffic but it is not always a catchable ball. Sometimes the ball is thrown low at the receiver's shoelaces or high over his head. It is important to have arm strength on short to intermediate passes but it has to be under control and accurate. If we are talking about pure arm strength though, Miller is only a notch below Jones.
We all saw Jones unleash a 74-yard throw at the spring game with a tired arm, but what he does in game action is even more impressive. With a flick of his wrist, he can throw the ball 50 yards on a dime, even when under pressure. He possesses NFL arm strength, which allows him to throw tough, out-patterns that most collegiate quarterbacks cannot make and he can accurately put the ball in any window, between defenders. There is no question that Jones has the most talented arm strength out of the three quarterbacks and possibly in the entire nation, which will make him one of the top three quarterbacks selected in next year's NFL Draft.
We are going to use "12 Gauge's" arm on this one.
Accuracy and field vision
Statistically wise, all three quarterbacks completed over 60% of their passes in their most recent body of work.
There is Miller, who was up-and-down in 2013 when it came to throwing accuracy. He had a masterful five game stretch (I broke it down here) in the middle of the 2013 season where he completed over 68% of his passes in four out of five games and saw the field very well, going through his progessions. Then he reverted back to his old self and completed under 45% of his passes in the following three out of four games, while looking completely lost and uncomfortable in the pocket. Miller is too sporadic as a passer versus well coached defenses to get the nod over the other two in the accuracy department.
Jones only started three games, albeit versus better than average defenses, but he still completed 61% of his passes. As mentioned above, Jones possesses the strongest arm of the three, which has its positives but it also makes him force throws into tight windows. Jones has the arm strength to make all of the throws and he has shown to be very accurate, but there is another quarterback who will get the nod here, just due to his consistency.
The Wichita Falls, Texas product has the accuracy and field vision that made former offensive coordinator Tom Herman comfortable calling any play. He may not have the consistent downfield arm strength like Miller or Jones, but he is money on short to intermediate passes. On third down with less than ten yards to go, Barrett completed 69% of his passes and moved the chains on 30 of his 35 completions in that situation. Overall, Barrett is calm in the pocket and he has the ability to move the chains due to his elite decision making and accuracy.
It would be accurate to pick Barrett here.
Speed and athleticism
One option is built like a defensive end, one option makes the right read that makes him look faster than he is, and the other option is arguably one of the top athletes in the country.
The first option is obviously Jones, who is relatively quick for his size but he excels in short yardage and designed runs in-between the tackles. He has shown power with the ball in his hands (bowling over an Oregon defensive lineman) but he just does not match up athletically to the other two.
Second is Barrett, who rushed for 938 yards last season, including a 86-yard touchdown run versus Minnesota; but he typically gets defenders out of position because of his masterful reads in the option game. Barrett is no slouch athletically though, especially on third down where he converted 22 of 32 attempts within 10 yards.
The third option is Miller, who was clocked at a 4.32 40-yard dash at Ohio State and is by far the best athlete of the quarterback group. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has amassed 3,054 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns in less than three full seasons, along with countless "wow!" moments. Miller's Walter Peyton-esque stutter step and his ability to burst after it, is move that only the elite of the elite can do.
*Incoming freshman Torrance Gibson may have something to say about this once he gets on the field in Columbus.
Miller runs away with this one.
Read option awareness
Miller may have the most career rushing yardage, Jones may be the toughest to bring down but Barrett reigns supreme in the read option game.
When Miller runs the read option, he gets away with improper reads due to his elite speed and athleticism. Unfortunately, he constantly pre-determines his read, which has gotten him into trouble when he has faced fast or well coached defenses (see, Michigan State). Miller needs to do a better job of slowing the game down and making the proper read, rather than relying on his athleticism to make up for an improper read.
When "12 Gauge" is under center, the read option is basically non-existent, as it does not reflect upon his skill set. Coach Urban Meyer would have to stick with the play calls that helped them win his three starts and throwaway the Barrett/ Miller read option plays.
That leaves Barrett, who looks like he reads the option defender in slow-motion and consistently makes the right decision. He may not possess the same athleticism or breakaway speed as Miller, but he has mastered the read option. In fact, ESPN analyst Todd McShay was quoted as saying "Barrett has faster eyes than Braxton," when he was on the sidelines of the Ohio State-Maryland game.
Barrett is the right option here.
This is sort of by default, but with the other two quarterbacks suffering season ending injuries in 2014, the nod has to go to Jones.
Miller, who scrambles somewhat recklessly and is prone to miss series; missed two full games in 2013 with a knee injury and the entire 2014 season due to a torn labrum that he suffered in the 2013 Orange Bowl versus Clemson. Also, Miller has an astounding 557 career carries in just three seasons, meaning he has been hit a lot more than the other quarterbacks.
Barrett showed his toughness against Penn State by playing through a sprained MCL en route to an overtime victory but then suffered a fractured ankle during the fourth quarter in a 42-28 victory over Michigan.
Jones has not had the same tread on his tires as Barrett or especially Miller, and it also helps that Jones has a NFL-type body, standing at 6'5, 249 pounds. Jones' tendency to sit in the pocket amid pressure also helps his case for long-term durability.
Jones survives this one.