CHICAGO — When Urban Meyer speaks, people listen.
Whether it is his Ohio State football team, a roomful of Buckeye supporters at a charity event or a swath of reporters, people hang on his every word. That's what happens when you enjoy the success Meyer has since arriving in Columbus prior to the 2012 season, and even before that, for that matter.
That's why it's worth noting the various timetables Meyer's spoken of regarding the decision on who his starting quarterback is going to be for the 2015 season.
Two days before Ohio State Spring Game in April, when J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller were still on the mend following ankle and shoulder injuries, Meyer said he planned to name a starter "in the middle of training camp."
Thursday at Big Ten Media Days, he changed his mind.
"The first guy that jogs out in Blacksburg will be the starting quarterback," Meyer said. "In my mind we'll know before that."
Meyer, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck will probably know around the middle of camp — they'll need to push forward in game planning for Virginia Tech Sept. 7, after all.
With the recent news that Miller is going to try his hand at wide receiver, theoretically it takes the race down to two horses. Those two horses — Barrett and Cardale Jones — all won games at quarterback for the Buckeyes in the 2014 national title season. Big games, in fact, with Barrett at Minnesota and Michigan State, Jones going 3-0 in the postseason. Lest we forget Miller leading the Buckeyes to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in the two years prior.
Meyer hasn't forgotten those games, or more specifically, really important plays that helped win them, either.
"I've seen Cardale Jones on 4th-and-1 against Oregon launch himself as he's looking at the first down marker," Meyer said. "That's buried in my brain. I've seen that.
"I've also seen J.T. Barrett, with a second-degree MCL sprain at Penn State look at me and say, 'I'm not coming out of the game,'" he continued. "I've seen Braxton Miller (have) incredible toughness, fight through pain and adversity. They're embedded and we just have to make the decision."
Thursday, Meyer made it clear that Miller's work at wide receiver or H-back is strictly his "Plan B," because of how he still isn't comfortable with where his shoulder is in the recovery process in order to throw the ball.
It's such an unprecedented and distinctive situation that whenever Meyer provides updates on his gut feeling — even if it doesn't change — it's written down, analyzed and discussed at length.
His gut feeling could favor Jones, because of how the redshirt junior ripped the top off defenses and ran through nose tackles on the way to three championship victories. It could, though, even lean Barrett's way, for what the Texan did in ice cold Minneapolis a week after dispatching defending Big Ten champion Michigan State on the road.
Wherever Miller plays this season, he'll get on the field (Meyer admitted Thursday "I think Braxton will play receiver"). Especially if he fully commits to a non-quarterback role Week 1 with Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith all suspended for the bout against the Hokies.
"Anyone can play quarterback when you're better than the team you're playing and you're surrounded by incredible skill. Creating that tough environment, that tough situation, and how they respond. That's a gut feeling."– Urban Meyer
Meyer said in the past he hasn't ruled out using a "specialty quarterback." He also said you could see more than one of them on the field at the same time, especially if they're part of the best 11 players the offense has to offer.
But what about all three of them?
"Yes," Meyer said bluntly.
At the same time?
"Yes," again, bluntly.
Care to elaborate?
Meyer doesn't know who he's going to give the ball to Labor Day Night in Blacksburg, Va., he just knows he's got better options than most other programs in the country.
"I'm the most fortunate coach in the country," he said Thursday.
It's hard to argue with the man who owns three national title trophies. Or his gut feeling after watching what happened one season ago.
"Anyone can play quarterback when you're better than the team you're playing and you're surrounded by incredible skill," Meyer said. "Creating that tough environment, that tough situation, and how they respond. That's a gut feeling."
Fall camp opens up in a week, and we're about to see who of the candidates is well, better.
And Meyer's words will be sliced, diced, deciphered and examined every step of the way.
"Basically, we're keeping score of everything. And everything, obviously, multiplied when you start adding 7-on-7 mini field, third-down periods, and all that," Meyer said. "So it's going to be — I probably — when I say there's not a gut instinct involved, there will be. But there's also going to be a lot of statistical data that we chart and watch very closely. And they've earned that right."