It turns out that Cardale Jones wants to keep playing school after all, and right now he’s the favorite to keep playing football, too.
The redshirt-sophomore Ohio State quarterback announced his decision to return to the Buckeyes — and his coursework — for the 2015 season during a Thursday press conference in Cleveland, forgoing the NFL Draft.
Two months ago, Jones didn’t have a future on the field, but after leading the Buckeyes to three straight postseason wins in his first three collegiate starts — including a victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship — a future at the next level was an immediate possibility. But to the surprise of some, Jones decided to put the NFL on hold and compete for playing time with the Scarlet and Gray.
On the surface, the decision seems to be a surprise. He’s started three games after all, and if senior quarterback Braxton Miller doesn’t transfer, he’ll be up against two players who have finished in the top five of Heisman Trophy voting.
But the key for Jones will be continued development, and he has a golden opportunity awaiting him when spring camp starts.
Miller tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder back in August, and probably won’t be ready to participate in spring practice. As for the other Heisman candidate at the position, redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett is still nursing a fractured ankle suffered in the regular-season finale against Michigan. The expectation at OSU is that Barrett can throw during the spring, but won’t be a full participant.
That leaves Jones — whose performance this season shows how far he has come in a short period of time — to have starter’s reps throughout the entire spring.
The pure talent is there — that’s not debatable.
His arm strength is likely the best in program history, and his accuracy was a shock to the Buckeye faithful from the moment he hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas on a short out-route on his first pass of the Big Ten Championship Game.
The world has already seen what Jones can become with just a week of practice as the No. 1 quarterback under his belt.
Then just a few weeks later, he showed off all of that pure ability once again against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl before leading the Buckeyes to a blowout of Oregon in the title game.
It’s only the midway point in January, and Cardale Jones is probably the best option at quarterback for the Buckeyes next season. At the midway point last November, he was an afterthought destined to transfer to another school before fading away into the obscurity of what-ifs in OSU lore.
But he’s going to have all of the reps, nobody knows if Miller will even be able to throw again, and nobody knows if Barrett is, in fact, a better player than Jones.
By the time Miller and Barrett are back at full strength, Jones could well have cemented his spot on the depth chart, lining himself up to lead the Buckeyes into a new season and a new run at a championship.
Will he do that? Who knows, but if you’re planning to bet against someone, Cardale Jones probably isn’t the best option.