When Ohio State takes the field in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game, it will have two Heisman candidates on its sideline.
But neither will be dressed to play.
When senior quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury less than two weeks before the Buckeyes were set to open the 2014 campaign, many wondered how redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett would fill his shoes.
Just more than three months later, though, many of those same people are left wondering an eerily similar question.
Barrett did more than fill Miller’s shoes — he outgrew them.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, native broke multiple records set by Miller throughout the season, and broke the Big Ten conference record for most total touchdowns in a season with 45 before fracturing his ankle against Michigan, effectively ending his season.
Now, redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones must fill the shoes of Barrett, who is on some people’s shortlists for the Heisman Trophy.
Despite Jones’ little experience, Barrett said he believes the Glenville High School product is capable of success as the Buckeye signal caller.
“Cardale is a great player,” Barrett said Wednesday with his leg propped up in a cast. “I honestly feel like if I wasn’t starting this year, Cardale would have done the same things that I did this year. Cardale is that talented.”
Jones stands an impressive 6-foot-5, 250-pounds, and has earned high praise from his coaches and teammates about his arm strength.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman rated Jones’ arm strength as “eleventy-billion” on Monday and Barrett added that he had seen proof of it in practice.
“You might want to take a look at warmups,” Barrett said. “Cardale might throw the ball 100 yards. I have seen him throw it I think 70-75 yards one time.”
Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman compared Jones to one of OSU’s two Heisman candidates at quarterback, saying his throwing style is comparable to one more than the other.
“He throws a little bit more like Braxton, I would say, than he does J.T.,” Heuerman said Wednesday. “He’s got a huge arm, you can tell that just watching practice or watching warmups. He can sling that thing.”
Even though the players and coaches have been singing Jones’ praise over the last few days, Heuerman said there’s still been a transition period.
“It’s just a different feel,” he said. “It takes you a day or two to usually adapt to it. Later on in the practice today we finished real strong in the team period with him throwing the ball, throwing it on time with our receivers and our receivers making catches.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that because of the talented skill players surrounding Jones, the Cleveland native’s first career start should not put too much pressure on him.
“It’s a product of those around them a lot of times. Sometimes it’s not, but 95 percent of every quarterback, a good quarterback has a common denominator and that’s good players around him,” Meyer said. “And we have a veteran offensive line and some good players around him.”
Heuerman said Jones has spent extra time with the receivers and skill players this week and added that the redshirt-sophomore had a good week of practice.
“I don’t have any doubts that he’s gonna be fully mentally prepared for this game. I know our coaches and I know how they grind him,” Heuerman said. “He’s gonna know everything he needs to know and they’re gonna put him in the best situation to succeed. And it’ll be fun to watch.”
With Jones making the first start of his college career, Barrett said he can relate all too well.
“Right now, I feel like his world is kind of like how mine was at the beginning of the year,” Barrett said. “I know what that feels like, I definitely do.”
In his first career start against the Navy Midshipmen, Barrett completed 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards and two scores through the air.
That was Navy.
The Wisconsin Badgers boast the second-best total defense in the country and Barrett said Jones will have be more prepared than he was before taking over for Miller.
“I was learning on the fly and it was fast for myself, but his is going to be even faster,” Barrett said.
The Buckeyes and Badgers are set to battle for the Big Ten title Saturday at 8:17 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.