In January, when Cardale Jones returned to school in Columbus, Ohio, from Dallas — the site of the 2015 College Football Playoff’s National Championship Game — he was given a conqueror’s welcome. After all, he had just lifted Ohio State to its first title in over a decade, which is a feat that’s seemingly enough to assume legend status in these parts.
“I would have to say the way I get treated now is a little bit different. Just everyone knows you,” Jones said Thursday morning.
“Definitely the first week back in class, the campus was wild … it’s hard to pay attention in class for the other students because they were staring me up and down but it’s pretty cool.”
It’s been months since Jones improbably helped lift the Buckeyes to the top of the college football world, but his momentum has grown since.
Once the team’s third-string quarterback and someone whom coach Urban Meyer has said had a “one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland,” Jones led his club to a Big Ten title, a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and the national championship in his first three-career starts. “I tell everybody it won’t sink into me personally until we get the national championship rings,” Jones said. It’s a postseason run that has elevated him to celebrity status in Columbus and across the country.
Because of this Jones — a redshirt sophomore who held a press conference at his high school at the Ginn Academy in Cleveland to declare he would return to Ohio State days after the national title game — is expected to pick up where he left off at AT&T Stadium as the team's top choice at quarterback.
To do so, he is dueling with Braxton Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and three-year starter, and J.T. Barrett, who combined for a school-record 45 touchdowns in Miller’s absence last season, in a quandary that has been been described by some as an embarrassment of riches at the position.
As Miller nurses a shoulder that sidelined him last season and Barrett eases back into action after breaking his ankle late last year, Jones is expected to have the inside track in what could be considered something of a quarterback derby between three players who are considered Heisman Trophy contenders next season. Jones played down this notion.
“It’s always been a competition to us ever since I stepped on campus … It’s always been a competition,” he said. “I mean, this is the first time you guys get to see all three of us get a chance to play, so it’s always been a competition.”
And though the Buckeyes appear to have three capable quarterbacks, only one can start next season. “All three of us are pretty close but we all have three different mindsets. I don’t think it’ll be difficult for us because we always want to see each other succeed,” Jones said.
“It’s going to be bittersweet for whoever because one guy gets to play. As long as we know in our hearts that guy’s the coaches pick and the coaches want to lead the team and give us the best chance at winning, that’s understandable to us all.”