DALLAS — Because he was asked again, head coach Urban Meyer said again Sunday that he expects Braxton Miller back at Ohio State in 2015 for the quarterback’s final season of eligibility.
That’s for later, though. Monday night, Ohio State plays Oregon for the national championship.
Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, was lost for the 2014 season to a shoulder injury suffered 10 days before the season started. The Buckeyes turned to J.T. Barrett, who started 12 games, broke the Big Ten’s single-season touchdown record and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Barrett broke his leg in the regular-season finale. Cardale Jones is 2-0 as a starter, having won the Big Ten Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl. That’s not a bad resume.
Miller and Barrett have pretty good resumes, too. All three have remaining eligibility, and Meyer has quite a situation on his hands. Further complicating that is that offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman departs after Monday night’s game to become head coach at the University of Houston.
Jones had never played a meaningful snap before Barrett was injured in the fourth quarter vs. Michigan. Miller missed spring practice last year, so Jones and Barrett split the reps — and Jones came out of the spring slightly ahead in the battle to be Miller’s backup.
"Cardale was not a finished person, was not a guy that would finish drills, would finish (his work)," Meyer said. "When August came summer training, J. T., beat him out. His leadership, his toughness (have improved). Cardale has always had talent, but really something happened in the last couple months. I know he had a little baby girl (in November).
"Everybody in life has a chance to push restart. Not many people get that chance on a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button. It’s a selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business, on and off the field. That’s one of the great stories in college football and one of the great stories I’ve witnessed. Like I’ve told people, of all the things that my children learn in school, I want them to read about the case study of Cardale Jones because it’s a great one. It’s a great one for everybody to read and learn from it."
Jones’ daughter, Chloe, was born Nov. 7.
Much has changed since then.
"It’s a lot, but it’s a lot that I was prepared for," Jones said. "There’s a lot that our coaches and my family helped me prepare for, so I mean, I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful for the situation I’m in right now."
With a week to prepare as the starting quarterback for the first time, he threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game — and that was with what Meyer called a gameplan "very limited" by the coaches.
"Against Alabama (in the Sugar Bowl), he (had) pretty much the entire (plan). We let him go play. And then this one, he’s got it all. His preparation, the way he’s handled it, has been great. He’s an incredible practice player…and before the Alabama Wednesday practice, I remember walking off the field again, looking at (Herman), and just saying, my goodness, that’s one of the best practices I’ve ever seen a player have.
"He’s got the full deal. He’s got the keys to the car, and the way he handles his business is just extraordinary, the change he’s made in his approach to the game."
Now, Jones is one more good performance from helping Ohio State win the national championship.
"It’s hard to be nervous," Jones said, "when you’ve got guys around you that you give them the ball and they can take it for 80 yards and the (linemen) in front of you, they give you all the time in the world."
Jones said last week that he’ll be back at Ohio State in 2015. A 22-year old redshirt sophomore, Jones has two seasons left. Barrett is a redshirt freshman.
As for whether his third career start or the status of the other two quarterbacks on the roster could affect what Jones is thinking, time will tell. At 6’5, 250, Jones would probably be the most coveted pro prospect of Ohio State’s quarterbacks with more seasoning. Jones would need an NCAA waiver to play at a different FBS program in 2015; he’d be immediately eligible at the FCS level.
Miller has another year of eligibility because he was hurt before playing his fourth season. He graduated in December, making him eligible to transfer and play immediately for another program if he chooses that route over the NFL or returning to Ohio State. Miller’s father told the Columbus Dispatch last month that his son plans to return to Ohio State.
Miller and Barrett are on the trip, but like they were at the Sugar Bowl, they’ve been kept away from the media.
All eyes are on Meyer and Jones. The future is Monday night.
"Going back (to the summer) it was very tough because being a No. 3 quarterback and then having two guys in front of you performing the way they were before Braxton and J.T. went down, it was tough to stay positive," Jones said. "It was tough to have that mindset, that I’m here for a reason. But with the help of my teammates and my coaches, I got a chance to stick it out."