Not even Urban Meyer — the master motivator, dynamite recruiter, nearly flawless game manager and national championship-winning coach — could have predicted this.
Meyer's always been able to do things his way, how he wants to do them. It didn't matter if he was at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, or now at Ohio State.
He's the guy in control. He's the guy who wins. And, he's the guy that typically gets what he wants.
But less than three months removed from etching his name deeper into Ohio State lore and bringing the school its eighth national title after the Buckeyes steamrolled through the inaugural College Football Playoff, Meyer's faced with a decision he — or anyone else, really — couldn't have envisioned.
Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, or Cardale Jones?
"It’s all positive. I watch them work together and (former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Tom Herman was doing a good job," Meyer said Tuesday morning following his team's third spring session. "If you watch the three of them, they’re always talking and they’re really good friends."
That certainly appears to be the case, but sooner or later a decision must be made — and it's going to be all the more difficult due to the support and appreciation the three give one another as a result of what they've accomplished.
"If I disliked one or two of them, it'd be not that hard," Meyer said. "But I have a lot of respect for those guys and everybody around here's seen what they've done."
How can he not? Miller won back-to-back Big Ten Silver Footballs in 2012 and 2013 while leading the Buckeyes to 24 straight wins. Barrett all but rewrote the Ohio State record book a year ago before breaking his ankle against Michigan and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. And Jones, the once immature and somewhat careless backup, stormed on the scene in December and into January to lead the Buckeyes to Big Ten and National Championships.
Meyer dubbed them "The Magnificent Three" at the National Championship Celebration Jan. 24. The Ohio Stadium crowd roared, he beamed, and Miller, Jones and Barrett showed the selflessness their head coach spoke of by giving each other the credit.
|Braxton Miller||J.T. Barrett||Cardale Jones|
|PASSING||395/666, 5,292 yards, 52 TD, 17 INT||203/314, 2,834 yards, 34 TD, 10 INT||57/94, 863 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT|
|RUSHING||557 carries, 3,054 yards, 32 TD||171 carries, 938 yards, 11 TD||89 carries, 424 yards, 2 TD|
That was then. This is now. As Barrett and Miller continue to work their way back to full strength, Jones is the lone quarterback able to fully participate in spring drills. They help each other out whether or not they physically can take snaps, just like it would be if all were healthy.
"Between (the quarterbacks), it's still the same," Jones said March 12. "We know when it's time to lock in and we know when it's time to joke around and have fun."
"It's still the same. We still encourage each other, run around and give each other advice on the field," Barrett said. "Braxton and Cardale help me and I try to do my best to help them. So everybody, we just feed off of each other. If somebody does well we cheer them on. There's not any bad blood at all, we're friends out here and we try to help each other get better. Even off the field we're buddies."
Meyer, forever the analytic, sees that, too, under his never relenting hawk-like watch.
"The other day I turned around and Braxton and J.T. are talking about football and then I saw Braxton walk up and tap Cardale and say nice job," Meyer said. "I just see that and that’s not common."
No, it's not common. Nor is the unsuspected predicament the head coach finds himself in with 166 days standing between his team and its season opener.
Ohio State doesn't visit Blacksburg, Va., and Virginia Tech until Sept. 7, but the questions about the most important position on the field are going to continue flying at Meyer in droves.
"If I disliked one or two of them, it'd be not that hard. But I have a lot of respect for those guys and everybody around here's seen what they've done."– Urban Meyer
"At that position I've never had it like that, I've had it at other positions where all of a sudden you have three or four really good receivers but you play more than one at a time," Meyer said March 10. "I think it is fairly unique. I've never been in this situation."
Hardly anyone has, especially after winning it all. Which is why its clear the decision that's hanging over the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is beginning to wreak havoc on the brain of one of college football's most decorated coaches.
Meyer might not have expected it, but the Ohio State quarterback quandary is not only going to be the biggest sports story in Columbus this summer — it'll be what's talked about nationwide.
"The only negative — everything’s positive: talent, good people, value to the program, investment in the program: check, check, check, check," Meyer said. "The negative is two of the three are going to have to watch. It’s not like receiver where you can put three of them out there so it’s starting to eat away at me a little bit."