With Ohio State putting the finishing touches on preparation for its Labor Day season-opener showdown at Virginia Tech, most of the storylines surrounding the team over the offseason have been put to rest.
The players who will be getting reps at wide receiver are set, redshirt senior Braxton Miller’s switch from quarterback to H-back is full-go and the replacements for the four suspended players for the opener are fairly clear.
The one area that has still not been cleared up — as OSU coach Urban Meyer has promised it wouldn’t throughout the offseason — is which player will be under center for the Buckeyes: redshirt junior Cardale Jones or redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett.
Barrett started each of OSU’s first 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season, throwing for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns. Though Barrett finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, his starting job for 2015 was put in doubt after an ankle injury against Michigan allowed Jones to step in for OSU’s three postseason games.
In those three games — the Big Ten Championship Game, Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff National Championship Game — Jones threw for 742 yards and five touchdowns.
Now, in the week before OSU’s first game, Meyer insists the competition is ongoing, with no decision coming until “the first guy takes the snap” in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Here is what members of the team had to say about the battle on Monday, exactly one week before the season commences.
The delayed announcement is for the team, not the opponent
While many speculated that Meyer was holding off on announcing the starter at quarterback until the beginning of the opening game with the intent of making the Hokies’ preparation for the game all the more difficult, the coach insisted that is not the reality.
“I imagine if one of them was way ahead I probably would announce it, but they’re not, and it’s more for our team than who we’re playing,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he is not worried about the team being out of sync from not being able to practice with a specific starter in mind because the two quarterbacks bring similar styles to the field.
“If you look at J.T.’s game plan when he was our quarterback and Cardale, it’s very similar,” Meyer said. “There is a chance they’ll both play … in our mindset we’re game planning our offense and they’re both executing well.”
The starter might not be the only one who gets snaps
The idea of using a two-quarterback system is something Meyer has hinted at exploring for months. On Monday, he said that experiment is still ongoing.
“I don’t know yet,” Meyer said about the two-quarterback system. “We’ve still got time to decide. I think a lot of it is going to be in-game, how’s it going and do we need a change.”
Meyer previously used a two-quarterback system in 2006 at Florida, when Chris Leak and Tim Tebow shared snaps. However, Meyer said those two brought very different styles, while Jones and Barrett are more similar.
OSU offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said he does not know if a two-quarterback system is the best choice for the team, but it would delight him to see both players get to see the field each game.
“I would say the benefit is having two high-level players on the field at the same time, and rewarding them for what they’ve given to this team, the program,” Warinner said.
A player vote might play a role
Although the ballots were cast for captains and not starting quarterback, Meyer said on Monday that Barrett being selected as one of six team captains is something that speaks to the leadership aspect of the competition.
“It’s a factor, but it’s not the factor,” Meyer said. “The guy that’s going to give us the best chance to move down the field is going to be the guy taking the snap.”
Meyer said Barrett finished with the third-most votes on the team, behind a pair of seniors in linebacker Joshua Perry and offensive lineman Taylor Decker. Miller, redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell and senior center Jacoby Boren round out the six.
Camaraderie between the two remains strong
While the idea of a head-to-head battle might make one imagine one person trying to stomp on the other’s feet after every step, Powell said it has been the exact opposite for Jones and Barrett, with the duo’s friendship and passion for the team trumping the power of personal interest.
“They’ve just been the same people that they’ve been all summer,” Powell said. “They still play the game together, everybody’s calm, nobody really talks about the quarterback competition. They both rotate reps with the ones every day. They don’t even know (who will be the starter).
“I think that no matter what, I think they’ve built a bond with each other, that no matter who the starter is, they’re going to support each other. That’s just how strong their bond is, they want to see the best for each other.”
Powell said seeing the two have the best interest of the team and each other at heart has enabled the rest of the team to relax and not be concerned about who will get the job.
The decision has been as difficult as advertised
As soon as the dust settled from OSU’s national championship victory, the internal and external discussion began about who would be the best man for the job.
At the time, it was a three-way competition, with Jones and Barrett also up against Miller, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year who missed the entire 2014 season with a shoulder injury.
While the competition eased somewhat when Miller moved to the H-back position, Warinner said choosing between two quarterbacks who have proven they can win games and perform at a high level has been extremely challenging.
“We’re not deciding between average and good. We’re deciding between good and good. We’re pretty good at both spots, so we’re trying to decide,” Warinner said. “Obviously they can execute in big games at a high level. That’s the thing that makes it tough, that makes it the most intriguing story.”
Meyer said the way the two have composed themselves leading up to the opener has not made matters any easier.
“I thought J.T. has always been a pro. I’m amazed at Cardale’s maturity, the way he’s handling his business,” Meyer said. “It’s really good to see a young guy grow up. I saw it last year and that’s continued.”
Meyer and his staff have until Sept. 7 to select between Jones and Barrett when OSU is scheduled to open the season at Virginia Tech. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m in Blacksburg, Virginia.