Let’s be clear: Urban Meyer can’t lose.
Ohio State’s quarterback competition has been the talk of college football’s offseason. Everyone wants to know who it’s going to be: J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones?
It’s for good reason, too, because at no time in recent memory has a head coach had to make a decision like this one. There can really only be one starting quarterback. But Meyer has it made because whichever one he chooses has a pretty good shot at being one of the country’s top QBs and leading perhaps the sport’s best offense. These guys are really, really good. Both of them.
Barrett did it all during the regular season and grew up in a hurry. Thrown into the fire when a shoulder injury knocked Braxton Miller out for the 2014 campaign just days before the season, he made his first appearance in a college football game in the Buckeyes’ opener. The seemingly disastrous loss to Virginia Tech was just his second game. But Barrett righted the ship in a hurry after that and went on to have one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the country. He threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns. He ran for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. He put the team on his back in an overtime win at Penn State. He set the Big Ten record for touchdowns accounted for in a single season, breaking Drew Brees’ record. He was named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year. He finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Simply put, Barrett was fantastic.
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But as fantastic as he was, he suffered an ankle injury in the regular-season finale against Michigan and couldn’t play in the Buckeyes’ most important games of the year.
No, that role went to Jones, who stunned almost everybody by proving himself not just capable but sensational. He threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns while leading a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. He threw for 243 yards and a touchdown in a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He threw for 242 yards and a touchdown — and rushed in for another score — in the national title game win over Oregon. Jones showed off a cannon of an arm, a bruising running style and a massive frame that was near-impossible to bring down. He’s a beast, and he’s making a lot of people talk about a bright NFL future.
So as those side-by-side resumes show, Meyer seemingly can’t make a bad decision here.
It’s an important choice, for sure, as it’ll set the tone for a season that comes with monumental expectations. The Buckeyes are being talked about as potentially being one of college football’s all-time great teams. Anything less than a perfect season ending in a second straight national championship won’t meet these crazy-high expectations.
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The truth is that either guy would give the Buckeyes a terrific chance to win, and it really has nothing to do with either guy. As Meyer said again and again last season when Barrett took over for Miller and then Jones took over for Barrett, a quarterback is a product of those around him. And if that’s really the case, then any human being that lines up under center for this loaded Ohio State team would have a shot. Ezekiel Elliott is arguably the country’s top running back. The Buckeyes offensive line is also perhaps the best in the FBS. The Buckeyes have more than a couple talented pass-catchers. The defense is loaded with stars.
If you’re asking this writer’s opinion on the matter, Barrett would be my choice simply because of how extraordinary he was last season and how unstoppable he made the Buckeyes following that loss to Virginia Tech. Sacked seven times in that game, he also threw three interceptions. From then on, Ohio State had the most explosive, most prolific offense in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. The Buckeyes scored at least 50 points in each of the next four games and made 42 points a common occurrence after that 50-point streak was broken.
Overshadowed by Jones’ winning play — and winning personality — in the postseason and the offseason since, people have had an easy time forgetting just how great Barrett was and just how easy he made quarterbacking look. He’d be my pick.
But, really, there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer.