Last season, Ohio State did the unthinkable. They rebounded from an embarrassingly bad loss to Virginia Tech at home to run the table and reach the inaugural 4-team playoff. They were catapulted by a 59-0 blowout of a respectable Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship, which was enough to sway the committee into selecting them over Baylor and TCU. The Buckeyes went on to defeat Alabama and Oregon in consecutive games to win the first ever College Football Playoff.
It wasn’t just that the Buckeyes rebounded from a bad loss that made the journey so remarkable, it was the way they did it. Ohio State lost both their starting and backup quarterbacks along the way. Braxton Miller, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, was slated to be the starter, but was lost for the season just before it began. J.T. Barrett stepped in and proceeded to put up a remarkable statistical season, but was injured in the season finale versus the “Team Up North.” Insert unproven “tank” Cardale Jones. I still have a text I sent to my friend when he asked me what Cardale was like just before the Big Ten Championship. My response: “Raw talent with a big arm and body, but unpolished and don’t think he’s a great decision maker. Also think he’s slow.” Jones shocked the world (and me) by putting up three consecutive dominant performances in route to leading the Buckeyes to becoming the first ever College Football Playoff Champion.
The only downside to the excellent quarterback play from the season before was that it created quite the QB quandary for coach Urban Meyer. He had three elite playcallers to chose from. The move for Braxton Miller to H-Back made things slightly easier, but he still has the decision between Barrett and Jones. One led the team through the regular season, and the other carried them the rest of the way. Who will Myer give the edge to on Monday night? Let’s take a look at his choices.
I asked my wife who she would start in the season opener. Her response? “The one who won the last games and the national championship.” The answer was so simple, but also difficult to argue with. Jones won three consecutive games to finish out the season and led the Buckeyes to their first National Championship since 2002. In the Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon games, Jones threw for 742 and 5 touchdowns, while rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown. Jones attacked the defense vertically and had a silly 16+ yards per completion during this three game stretch. Jones also benefited from dominant run of games by Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 696 yards and 8 touchdowns, which allowed Jones to throw on defenses stacking the box to stop the running game.
Pros: Jones has a ridiculously strong arm and can make all the throws. He loves to stretch the defense with deep throws, which allows his receivers to make plays and also opens up the running game. He is a weapon in short-yardage situations due to his surprising elusiveness and monstrous 6-5’ 250 lb frame.
Cons: His decision-making can occasionally be suspect, and often appears to lock onto his primary option and wait for them to get open. His rocket arm can be inaccurate at times, especially at short to medium distances. His running ability in short-yardage is good, but he is more of a power runner and is slow when escaping the pocket.
Before his injury, Barrett had a record-setting season for Ohio State. He threw for 2800+ yards and 34 touchdowns while rushing for 938 yards and 11 more scores. He was in complete control of the offense, which averaged over 44 points per game in which he played. His decision-making was good as well. After the Virginia Tech Game, he threw only 6 interceptions in 270 attempts (45 attempts per INT). His on and off-field leadership was apparent as his team rallied around him after losing Miller for the season just a few weeks before the Navy game.
Pros: Has an excellent feel for the offense. Good, quick decision maker who limits his turnovers. Very accurate passer who puts receivers in positions to gain yardage after the catch. Efficient runner with underrated speed and quickness.
Cons: Lacks the pure arm strength of Jones. Doesn’t make as many “flashy” plays as Jones including a slightly more reserved approach to stretching the defense vertically. Not a power runner in short-yardage situations.
Who gets the Nod?
Clearly, Ohio State is in a great position that all teams are envious of. It’s not a stretch to say that both QBs would start for any team in the country except for a handful of exceptions. They are two proven, elite quarterbacks who can both run the offense to perfection. Personally, I think the nod should go to J.T. Barrett. He doesn’t quite contain the “wow factor” of Cardale Jones, but the Buckeyes are talented enough to not require it from their Quarterback. That’s not to say Barrett is a “game manager”, because he’s far more than that. He just runs the offense more efficiently than Jones. I have no idea what Urban Meyer will decide on Monday night, but the Buckeyes will be in good hands regardless of the QB at the helm.