COLUMBUS — The question of who will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback is the biggest story of the 2015 season for last year’s national champions.
But coach Urban Meyer is in no hurry to reveal whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones will start for the Buckeyes. He says everyone will find out when they see who jogs out for Ohio State’s first offensive series in its opener at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7.
The back-up quarterback often becomes the most popular player on a football team because no one has seen him play much or have to perform under pressure.
But both the winner and the loser in the battle to be Ohio State’s starter will be two of the most popular players on the roster because of what they did on the field.
Barrett rescued the regular season when he stepped in for the injured Braxton Miller and led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record. Then, after Barrett went out with a broken ankle against Michigan, Jones was successful beyond all expectations in leading Ohio State to wins in the Big Ten championship game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game.
For a while it looked like Ohio State would have a three-way race for the starting quarterback job. But when Braxton Miller decided to move to wide receiver it became a head-to-head duel between Barrett and Jones.
Barrett completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards and a school-record 34 touchdowns before his injury. He also rushed for 938 yards, including nine games of 70 yards or more.
Jones threw only 17 passes all season before the Big Ten championship game. But in the three postseason games he completed 61 percent of his passes for 257 yards against Wisconsin, 243 against Alabama and 242 in the national championship game against Oregon.
Each brings his own set of strengths to the field. Jones has one of the strongest arms in college football. He is not as good at running the option as Barrett but at 250 pounds he can run over defenders.
Barrett is the better runner and looks more comfortable than Jones when running the option. Meyer questioned his arm strength when he first got to Ohio State but says he is now satisfied with Barrett’s ability to “throw a rope” 50 of 60 yards.
Both players say they think there should be a winner emerge from preseason practice as the No. 1 quarterback. A two-quarterback system got a thumbs down from Barrett and Jones.
“I did that in high school. As a quarterback it’s kind of tough because you can’t get a real vibe off the defense and how they’re trying to play you,” Barrett said.
Jones said, “I don’t think that would be a great idea. I don’t think you could get into a rhythm. But if we do that, I’m pretty sure Coach Meyer would find a way to make it work.”
During spring practice, Jones got most of the time with the first team because Barrett was still recovering from the broken ankle he suffered in the Michigan game. But the ankle is back to normal and won’t be a factor in deciding who wins the starting job.
Barrett pointed to a time he ran past Joey Bosa during practice as proof his ankle is all the way back.
“I went right around him. I thought I wouldn’t have as much giddy-up, but I’ve still got it,” he said.
Meyer called the competition “one of the most refreshing competitions I’ve ever witnessed.”
“This one is very genuine. They really encourage each other, they really push each other,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.