COLUMBUS — Until six weeks ago, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was an unknown. His one moment of fame was actually a moment of infamy on Twitter.
Even a die-hard OSU fan would have had a hard time identifying him out of uniform. And in uniform, the No. 12 for Ohio State that people thought of first was cornerback Doran Grant, not Jones.
But that all changed when Jones became Ohio State’s No. 1 quarterback after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett and succeeded when many people worried he would fail.
Now, information about Jones is flowing like milk out of a punctured plastic gallon jug that was just dropped on a grocery store parking lot.
He has a two-month-old daughter. He has a mentor who in some ways has been a mother to him, sometimes to the chagrin of his actual mother. He never knew his father. Baseball was his best sport before he got to high school. He has an uncle dying of cancer. He bought 10 copies each of the issues of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine that had him on the cover.
Life is mostly good for the quarterback who will lead Ohio State against Oregon in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night.
He threw for three touchdown passes in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game in his first career start, then passed for 243 yards and another touchdown in a 42-35 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
His mood has been upbeat. But not too long ago, it wasn’t.
If his infamous tweet, which complained about having to go to class, was the low point of his career, seeing J.T. Barrett go around him on the depth chart to win the starting quarterback job after Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury, was the almost low point.
Jones went into preseason practice as OSU’s No. 2 quarterback. But after Barrett outperformed him in August, he dropped to No. 3.
“I was down. I’m not going to lie,” Jones said.
Safety Tyvis Powell, who has been Jones’ roommate since they were freshmen, gave a better measurement of how deep Jones’ disappointment was.
It wasn’t until Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the Michigan game and OSU had no choice other than playing Jones that his disillusionment disappeared. Jones and the coaching staff were at odds in the week before that game, Powell said.
“The team up north game, he got into it with the coaches, academically wise. I think he didn’t go to tutoring or something like that and they were going to take his tickets. And Cardale was like, ‘I don’t care because I’m not playing anyway, so I don’t care what you do.’
“He said, ‘I think they forgot that I don’t play.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay.’ And of course he was wrong, he ended up playing the next game.
“After that day, I think that’s when I saw him change and be more focused and watch more film and throw the ball more to receivers. That was this year. All the way up to the team up north game, Cardale was, ‘For what? What am I going to do that for?’ And then, boom, he ended up playing.”
Miller, who was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 and 2012, has another year of eligibility. If his shoulder injury heals by this summer and he is back at Ohio State next year, it is reasonable to think he would be ahead of Jones on the depth chart.
Barrett threw for an Ohio State-record 34 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards, so when his ankle is healthy, he will have a strong claim on one of the top two spots at quarterback.
Is it possible a quarterback could lead Ohio State to a national championship and find himself as the No. 3 QB by Ohio State’s opener at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7?
“We really don’t talk about it. We understand the situation. We kind of have a sense for what’s going to happen and how next year’s going to be,” Jones said. “But we haven’t talked about it.
Jones says he is not considering leaving early for the NFL (he has been at OSU three years) and hasn’t pursued a transfer.
“We’re trying to get the trips (three) quarterbacks package in,” Jones said. “We talk about next year. Definitely with me and J.T., we are happy with each other’s success. We didn’t get to compete with Braxton. We had an understanding as long as the team is successful we don’t care who’s playing,” he said.
Maybe Jones is counting on the same confidence that has made him so successful this season when he looks into the future.
“I saw myself here, being in this position when J.T. went down. There was never a lack of confidence in myself. There was never a lack of confidence my teammates had in me. When I stepped into the role as a starter I saw us still winning a national championship,” he said.