This time last year, Cardale Jones was in the process of losing a job he already earned. Urban Meyer announced at Big Ten Media Days the 6'5" trebuchet from Glenville earned the backup role in the spring.
Camp 2014, much like Cardale's entire career, didn't go according to plan. All 12 gauges were relegated to the bench by a redshirt freshman who would become the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and lead Ohio State to its second conference title game in as many years.
J.T. Barrett was lost for the season, however, after suffering an ankle injury on a (rare) misread of a read-option during the first play of the fourth quarter against Michigan.
Ohio State led 28-21 and faced third-and-one on its own 33 when Cardale Jones — then only of "I ain't come here to play school" infamy — sauntered onto the field.
Two plays later Michigan had the ball with an opportunity to tie or take the lead.
After the Silver Bullets staved off the Wolverine attack, Ohio State never looked back. It took Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott a mere seven plays to drive the ball 80 yards to paydirt. A few minutes later, Darron Lee held Michigan's heart above his head in the endzone.
It was only the beginning of Ohio State's metamorphosis into world-beaters.
Wisconsin was dead on arrival; Alabama faded late; Oregon got bullied, and Cardale Jones, who orchestrated six postseason touchdowns, performed admirably against all three Top-15 defenses. Not bad work for a guy who had previously never started a game at Ohio State.
That alone would be enough to secure next year's starting role anywhere outside of Columbus. Yet even after Braxton Miller bowed out of #QBgeddon, Dolodale's current Heisman odds (16:1) are worse than J.T. Barrett's (14:1). Eight out of ten of our polled readers predicted J.T. Barrett over Cardale as well.
So where would Cardale Jones' defense begin? Perhaps Labor Day night in Blacksburg.
People can wax philosophically about intangibles, but at the end of the day, Urban Meyer's offense is based on running between the tackles, gaining an arithmetic advantage, and explosiveness. Cardale can provide all three.
Sure, Cardale Jones struggled with the read-option, but that's teachable. Him going through an entire spring as the No. 1 no doubt improved his ability to run the read-option or at least the speed option:
Oh my, be careful. pic.twitter.com/vcodzh49lV— BRAXTON MILLER (@BraxtonMiller5) August 14, 2015
There's a reason why Urban Meyer deployed this package — and not one featuring a backfield of J.T. Barrett and Miller — while the media was present. We may ever see the hydra in action, but it's unstoppable in theory.
Collapse on Jones, and Braxton's off to the races. Collapse on Braxton, and Jones either gets a full head of steam and becomes powerful enough to truckstick a DT. Or he could drop back, flick his wrist, and the ball is 70 yards down in four seconds.
Remember, this all happening behind the best offensive line in America.
J.T. Barrett may be the prototypical quarterback for Urban Meyer's offense, but Cardale Jones gives opponents more to think about. Because of the constant threat of a deep ball, defenses will be unable to crowd the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech can deploy the bear defense against Cardale Jones, but they'll throw the kitchen sink at their own peril:
J.T. Barrett will be a different quarterback in 2015 than he was the night he lost to Virginia Tech, but even so, Cardale's physical advantages would make it even tougher for the Hokies to do what they did to Ohio State in 2014.
That's not a slight to Barrett, it's just simple arithmetic.
While the loss of Devin Smith is often cited as a loss to Cardale's case, it's important to remember speed is abundant at Ohio State. Becoming an elite deep threat is more than running fast in one direction (Devin Smith was elite at tracking a mid-flight ball), but there's no reason to think somebody like Jalin Marshall, Braxton Miller, or Johnnie Dixon (who Jones himself tabbed at Ohio State's media day) can develop into that role like Smith did.
Compound all of this, and it leads to less designed quarterback runs — an annual offensive goal that seems to go up in smoke in places like Happy Valley — that would aid in keeping Ohio State's quarterback upright through 100 percent of a regular season for the first time in the Meyer era.
And if Cardale has polished his ability to pick a hole, he could become an effective Tebow-like battering ram between the tackles.
Jones, who is naturally aloof and carries a larger-than-life persona, is smarter than people think, too.
He might not be cut from the traditional leadership cloth like Barrett, but one doesn't perform like he did on that stage (for three consecutive games) and not command the respect of the huddle.
He also handled his business this summer when the cameras were off, as evidenced by his inclusion at the champion's dinner — a luxury not even afforded to Braxton Miller — on the first night of fall camp.
Jones is no fluke, and to name him starter wouldn't mean Barrett lost his job to injury, because Barrett himself won his job due to injury. Cardale always had the potential; his biggest hurdle was himself. And now that he's weaponized, there's no turning back.
No. 12 could've went pro and reaped millions, but he realized what Urban Meyer probably told him after the three-time champion coach diverted a New York recruiting trip to speak with Cardale privately before the Glenville press conference: Michigan, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon couldn't stop him. The starting role was Cardale's to lose.
And unless the Iron King bombs fall camp, how can the coaching staff supplant him? The proof, like they say, is in Ohio State's College Football Playoff Trophy.