At Ohio State’s national championship coronation on a cold morning in January, Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller sat center stage on a platform at midfield inside Ohio Stadium.
They giggled and smiled and fiddled like you might expect three 20-somethings to act while celebrating the program’s first title in over a decade in front of some 45,000 fans. It was a day of celebration in Columbus and the three quarterbacks were inclined to join the party because, after all, they were the life of it.
"This is the most selfless group of players and people that I've ever been around,” said Urban Meyer, the Ohio State coach.
One by one, Meyer summoned for each quarterback to address the crowd. First was Miller, who was once the team’s three-year starter at quarterback and more or less something of Meyer’s right-hand man in Columbus.
Next, Meyer called for Barrett, who combined for a school-record 45 touchdowns en route to becoming a Heisman Trophy contender in Miller’s absence.
Finally, Meyer forth brought Jones, who went from the third-string quarterback with a “one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland” to the orchestrator of three monumental wins in his first three-career starts.
As winter gives way to the embryonic stages of spring and as the snow melts around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ohio State’s trio of quarterbacks — a group that Meyer dubbed the “Magnificent Three” — enters the team’s spring practices at the crux of an unusual quandary some have called an embarrassment of riches.
While Miller, Barrett and Jones are all regarded as early Heisman Trophy candidates, only one can start next season and lead the Buckeyes in their national title defense in 2015.
On Thursday morning, in their first meeting with a gaggle of reporters and cameras since inside the bowels of AT&T Stadium in Dallas following a 42-20 win over Oregon, they played down the notion of what’s become a quarterback derby in Columbus.
“We’re still very close, we still kid around, we still hang out together,” said Jones, who — because of health and momentum from the postseason — might have the inside track to the starting job. “The situation here has not affected our relationship.”
Barrett said, "It’s not any bad blood at all, we’re friends out here. We always try to help each other get better."
There is still a competition to be had here, though. And Jones, who will take the majority of snaps at quarterback while Miller and Barrett nurse injuries that sidelined them last season, is expected to pick up where he left off in January.
Whether or not Jones is anointed the team's starter come fall camp in August remains to be seen. To do so, he'll have to fend off Miller and Barrett, a pair to whom he has played backup for most of his collegiate career.
"It’s always been a competition to us ever since I stepped on campus ... It’s always been a competition," Jones 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."
Barrett added: "I think that’s just funny because we all see what we’re able to do here in practice, but I mean it just really came out last year that we can play."
"With that being said," he continued, "somebody’s taking a backseat. But it’s always what’s best for the team."
It's a decision that, in the past, that centered around Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and program staple of sorts. Now, Miller, who declined to meet with the media Thursday, might be on the outside looking in after underlings helped guide the Buckeyes back to the top of the college football world.
"It’s going to be bittersweet for whoever because one guy gets to play," Jones said. "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."
“Somebody’s going to be the best quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes,” Barrett said. He added: “Everything’s going to be all right.”