Postseason #CFBrank: 31-40

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
10:45
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just as we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you also can find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


Postseason #CFBrank: 71-80

January, 17, 2015
Jan 17
12:01
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just like we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


video
CLEVELAND -- No promises were made to Cardale Jones, and nothing is ever guaranteed at the most important position on the field.

But there is at least one certainty for now at Ohio State in the early stages of what is shaping up to be a quarterback derby with record-setting intrigue. After making his intention to return to the Buckeyes official during a news conference in Cleveland, Jones will come back to campus at the top of the depth chart and have the first crack at leading a defense of the national title he helped claim on Monday.

Eventually J.T. Barrett will have a healthy ankle and won’t have his mobility limited, as it will be in spring practice. If Braxton Miller decides to stick around and not use his graduate transfer, at some point in the summer he will again be able to throw a football after two surgeries on his shoulder.

But neither of them are in any kind of position to challenge Jones over the next few months. And already with momentum on his side and a chance to further establish himself by leading the Buckeyes during offseason workouts and spring camp, the rising junior will be the favorite to earn the job for the first time in his career with the program.

“[Coach Urban Meyer] didn’t make me any promises,” Jones said Thursday at Ginn Academy. “He told me what I had to do and what I have to improve on and that was about it.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Cardale Jones
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer will see a lot more of Cardale Jones this spring, and that makes him the likely early leader in Ohio State's historic quarterback derby.
“He just gave me the pros and cons, basically how my career has gone so far. You know, just let me know the type of things that the NFL is looking for, the things that I have right now and the things that I can go back to school to work on.”

Meyer, Jones and his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., started crafting a list of those areas of improvement during a meeting Thursday morning when the decision was finalized. Fine-tuning mechanics, improving Jones' ability to recognize coverages and becoming a better leader in the huddle was at the top of the list.

Of course, all of those would figure to take a step forward with more experience, and Jones was already recognizing strides in those areas after just three games.While in some ways he’s working backward after already accomplishing more in a month than the vast majority of quarterbacks do in their entire careers, there's a school of thought that his stock would never be higher than it is now. But Jones could really make that look silly with another year to work on his craft.

And even better for him, there’s probably not going to be any chance of complacency with Barrett and potentially Miller around, vying for playing time.

“I mean, you can always improve on any and everything,” Jones said. “Just to become a better vocal leader for my teammates, work on my mechanics and definitely gain more experience.

“It’s more about the intangibles, working on things like my mechanics, tightening things up there. I think this offseason will help with that.”

Jones will enter it as the top choice for the Buckeyes, even if for the moment it’s by default.

Barrett might not be able to run without any restrictions during the practices in March, but he should be ready in plenty of time for training camp and proved what he’s capable of by setting the Big Ten record for touchdowns before his injury.

Miller might elect to leave or he might even be tempted to change positions for the Buckeyes. But if he throws his name in the hat, his two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Awards speak for themselves.

But Jones now has evidence to support his case as well. He’s got championship rings for each of his three starts and physical tools that had NFL teams thinking about how high he's be selected in the draft. He’s also going to have a head start on his competition on the practice field.

“I’ll have to deal with that when the time comes,” Jones said. “Hopefully I am the starter, but I mean, if I’m not, I’ll have to wait for my opportunity to present itself again.”

There’s one thing that’s clear, though: There shouldn’t be any reason to wait when the Buckeyes get back on the practice field.
A dispiriting drought ended for the Big Ten on Monday night in Arlington, Texas. Another could end in April 2016 at an yet-to-be-determined location.

Ohio State's victory against Oregon gave the the Big Ten its first national championship since the 2002 season. No single accomplishment can help a league's reputation more than winning a national championship.

But there's another distinction the Big Ten would like to ditch. The league hasn't had a quarterback drafted in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995 (No. 5 overall to Carolina). Collins, now 42, played his final NFL season in 2011.

The first-round quarterback draftee drought isn't nearly as significant as the national championship drought in determining the Big Ten's value. The league has produced several standout pro quarterbacks drafted after the first round, most recently Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, a third-round pick who helped Seattle win the Super Bowl last season.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Darren Carroll for ESPNCardale Jones, if he wins the Ohio State starting job, could also end the Big Ten's first-round quarterback drought in 2016.
Still, two decades without a single first-rounder at quarterback is pretty stunning. It won't end April 30 in Chicago. Although the Big Ten could have its best first-round showing in years, the group won't include a quarterback.

But there's a decent chance, perhaps a good one, that things will change in 2016. Cardale Jones' decision to return to Ohio State gives the league another quarterback with the potential to go high in the draft. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected Jones as a second- or third-round pick in this year's draft if he had elected to leave Ohio State. Kiper's assessment came despite Jones having just three career starts and 94 career pass attempts under his belt with the Buckeyes.

Jones, of course, must first retain the starting job at Ohio State, which will be no easy task when more experienced quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller return from serious injuries. But if "12 Gauge" remains Ohio State's triggerman, grows his game as a redshirt junior and perhaps leads the Buckeyes to a national title, his draft stock surely will climb higher. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones checks all the boxes for NFL measurables -- huge arm, powerful runner, good feet -- and he already has proven himself a winner at the highest level of college football.

There's certainly some risk in Jones returning to Ohio State. But to think his draft stock can't get any higher is to doubt his ability to grow. If the last six weeks have taught us anything, it's not to doubt Cardale Jones.

Even if Jones doesn't start or backslides in his play, another Big Ten quarterback could crack the first round in 2016. Michigan State's Connor Cook and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg both have the ingredients to earn high draft grades in 2016 (Hackenberg, who just completed his sophomore year, would be an early draft entrant).



Let's begin with Hackenberg, who flourished in Bill O'Brien's offense in 2013, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. At this time last year, many viewed the Penn State quarterback as a first-round lock in 2016 and a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick. But Hackenberg endured a rough sophomore season behind a flimsy line, throwing 15 interceptions against 12 touchdowns and was sacked 44 times. His frustration grew and he had several sideline blow-ups with offensive coordinator John Donovan.

But opposing coaches tell me Hackenberg wasn't the problem with Penn State's offense. If the line is fixed -- the Lions will have more bodies there in 2015 -- Hackenberg's performance should improve. He still projects extremely well to the next level, and his top three receivers are back.

Cook might have earned a first-round grade if he chose to skip his senior year. He could cement himself as a No. 1 pick with a strong senior season. Cook has flourished in Michigan State's pro-style offense, throwing 46 touchdown passes the past two seasons. Like Jones, Cook is a proven winner, having led Michigan State to consecutive top-five finishes, consecutive major bowl victories and a Big Ten championship in 2013. His playmaking ability is obvious, but his ability to rebound from bad plays like this will really stick out to NFL personnel evaluators.

Jones, Hackenberg and Cook all have the potential to end the Big Ten's first-round quarterback famine, and other candidates could emerge. Quarterback might be a strength in the league. (It will be at Ohio State.)

The Big Ten waited a long time to for a team to raise the national championship trophy.

Now it waits for another sign of progress: a quarterback walking across the stage on the first night of the NFL draft.

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
11:00
AM ET
The Big Ten played in 10 bowl games -- 11 if you count the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. We've come up with our list of the league's best postseason performers. The strategy here was as follows: When in doubt, choose a Buckeye. There is lots of scarlet and gray on our Big Ten all-bowl team, as you'd expect. Here it is:

Offense

QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: Bouncing back from an at times rough sophomore season, Hackenberg reminded everyone of his talent in his team's 31-30 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College. He threw for 371 yards and a season-high four touchdowns with no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott left defenders grasping at air this postseason.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: The offensive MVP of both the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, Elliott blossomed into a superstar this postseason. He ran for 476 yards and six touchdowns in the two playoff wins, including a four-touchdown night against Oregon.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: The Badgers star capped his career in style, by running for 251 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's Outback Bowl win over Auburn. Gordon finished the season with 2,587 rushing yards, the second most in FBS history.

WR: Devin Smith, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' big-play threat became even more dangerous with Cardale Jones slinging it to him in the postseason. He had two catches for 87 yards and a score against Alabama and one for 45 yards against Oregon, but defenses always had to account for Smith.

WR: Chris Godwin, Penn State: The Nittany Lions freshman had 198 total receiving yards on the season before he caught seven balls for 140 yards and a touchdown in the win over Boston College.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams had seven receptions for 98 yards and a score in his team's Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl loss to Missouri. His hurdle over a Tigers defensive back en route to a 54-yard score was one of the best plays of bowl season.

OL: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: The Buckeyes dominated the line of scrimmage against Alabama and Oregon, and their junior left tackle was a huge reason for that.

OL: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: Elflein was terrific from his guard position, as the Buckeyes were able to run the ball extremely well in both playoff games.

OL: Kodi Kieler, Michigan State: Thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle due to an injury, Kieler graded out as the Spartans' top offensive linemen in their 42-41 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic win over Baylor. His hustle on a Baylor interception drew a penalty that might have saved the game.

OL: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The center and leader of the Spartans' line helped pave room for 552 yards and 29 first downs against Baylor.

OL: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: The Badgers ran for 400 yards against Auburn, and Costigan helped lead the way.

Defense

DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State

Yep, we've got three Buckeyes here (and you could make a case for Steve Miller, who had a pick-six versus Alabama). The Ohio State defensive line was great in both playoff games at both holding up against the run and generating pressure on the quarterback, and the starters proved to be iron men in both games.

DL: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: Zettel had a pair of tackles for loss against Boston College to finish his spectacular season at defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: The defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl became a household name this January. Only a redshirt freshman, Lee could terrorize Big Ten offenses for a long time.

LB: Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Yet another Buckeyes defender. Grant led the team in tackles in the Sugar Bowl and was strong from his middle linebacker position when it mattered most.

LB: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin: Schobert collected three tackles for loss in Wisconsin's win over Auburn.

CB: Doran Grant, Ohio State: He corralled Alabama stud receiver Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl and held Cooper to his second-lowest yardage total against an FBS team this season.

CB: Jordan Lucas, Penn State: Boston College passed for only 97 yards on 20 attempts versus the Nittany Lions. Lucas also added seven tackles and a sack in the victory.

S: Vonn Bell, Ohio State: Hey, look, another Buckeye. Bell added to Ohio State's outstanding defensive effort from his safety position by grabbing an interception against Alabama and collecting 14 tackles in the two playoff games.

S: Lorenzo Waters, Rutgers: He was a busy man in his team's 40-21 Quick Lane Bowl win over North Carolina, with 14 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The Brazilian freshman kicked a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left to send the game against Auburn into overtime, and he won it with a 25-yarder in the first extra period.

P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State: He averaged 46.5 yards on six punts against Alabama and 42 yards on three attempts against Oregon.

KR: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: In his final game with the Huskers, Abdullah returned three kicks for 120 yards, including a 49-yarder, in Nebraska's 45-42 National University Holiday Bowl loss to USC.

Top recruiting targets in the Big Ten 

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
10:30
AM ET
Big Ten coaches are working feverishly to finish out their 2015 recruiting classes. With only a few weeks left until signing day, each team has some must-get recruits, or targets that would benefit the program greatly.

Here is a look at those prospects within the Big Ten conference:

Eleven players from nine different Big Ten schools decided to leave a year of college eligibility on the table and enter the NFL draft this spring. There were also some notable decisions accompanied by news conferences and surprise announcements to stay put for at least one more season.

With the window for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft officially closed (those that did decide to make the jump can still change their minds over the weekend), it’s time to sort through which teams lost the most and which teams can declare victory.

Winners
1. Ohio State
Many of the players who led the Buckeyes to a national title this season are too young to consider NFL riches this year. Ohio State didn’t have a single player with college eligibility remaining declare for the draft this year. The three players that passed up a safe bet to be drafted are Taylor Decker, the cornerstone of a much improved offensive line; defensive lineman Adolphus Washington; and, of course, quarterback Cardale Jones, who held a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce that he would be coming back to finish his degree in Columbus.

The return of that trio ensures that Ohio State will once again be intimidating in the trenches and equipped with unprecedented depth at the quarterback position. Jones will battle with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, who was also eligible to enter the draft, for a starting spot in the fall. Urban Meyer will have a hard time duplicating this retention rate in the next couple of years, but having zero early draft entrants on a national championship team bodes well for the Buckeyes’ immediate future.

2. Michigan State
Before Jones declared his intentions to return, Michigan State was in the running for the best in-house recruiting job of the year. Top players on both sides of the ball, quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun, return to give the Spartans a legitimate shot at a third straight top-5 finish.

Cook can bring consistency to an offense that loses its top rusher and its top receiver this season. Calhoun helps to offset the loss of fellow defensive end Marcus Rush. Their production and leadership should give a new crop of players time to get acclimated. Michigan State will have to replace its No. 1 cornerback in Trae Waynes, who opted to jump to the NFL. Waynes may be the first cornerback taken in draft. He leaves the Spartans with a hole to fill in a crucial position on defense.

3. Rutgers
Beyond the top two programs in the conference, the Scarlet Knights were the only team to retain a sure-thing draft pick in wide receiver Leonte Carroo. As a junior, Carroo led the nation with 19.7 yards per catch and led his team with 10 receiving touchdowns. His decision to stay is even more of a coup when considering that quarterback Gary Nova, who has been throwing passes to Carroo since their high school days at Don Bosco Prep, graduated at the end of the 2014 season.

Carroo will be an important security blanket for whoever takes Nova’s place, especially since tight end Tyler Kroft opted to leave school after his junior season. Kroft caught only 24 passes for 269 yards this season, but his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame will be missed in Piscataway.

Losers
1. Penn State
The Nittany Lions are sending three underclassmen to the draft this year. No other school in the conference has more than one player leaving early. Tight end Jesse James, defensive end Deion Barnes and offensive tackle Donovan Smith all declared for the draft this year.

Barnes, a Big Ten honorable mention pick, made 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks this season as a leader of one of the conference’s best front-seven units. James (6-foot-7, 254 pounds) has NFL size, but still ranks behind Kroft and Minnesota’s Maxx Williams as a draft prospect. Smith was easily Penn State’s most experienced offensive lineman. Attrition is to be expected during a coaching change, but James Franklin’s team lost more experience in key areas than any other program in the Big Ten this year.

2. Indiana
While not nearly as surprising as some of Penn State’s departures, the loss of Tevin Coleman at Indiana will be hard to weather. Coleman ran for 2,036 yards against defenses that didn’t need to worry about a passing attack for most of the season. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon edged Coleman on the postseason award circuit, but few players were more essential to their teams this season than the Hoosiers’ junior running back.

No one else on the roster was a serious candidate to leave for the next level. No one in Bloomington will begrudge Coleman for moving on. Nonetheless, his absence will be felt at Indiana next season.

3. Nebraska
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is expected to be the first Big Ten player off the draft board this season. He's a top-5 pick, according to Mel Kiper's first mock draft this week. While his leap to the NFL appears to be a smart move, he will be missed as a pass-rusher in Lincoln.

Gregory dropped off slightly this season on the stat sheet after winning the Cornhuskers' defensive MVP award as a sophomore. Most of that decline can be attributed to the extra attention he received from opposing offenses all year. He finished the season with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The return of defensive tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Greg McMullen (both will be juniors in 2015) gives Nebraska experience on the line and helps soften the blow of Gregory's exit.

4. Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland
All four of these schools will lose their most talented player a year early. Wisconsin has the most production to replace with Gordon, but also is in the best shape to replace him with a sturdy offensive line and experienced backup in Corey Clement. Devin Funchess from Michigan has great size but was underwhelming during a down year for the Wolverines. After catching three touchdown passes in the first half of the season opener, Funchess scored only once more the rest of the season. Minnesota and Maryland lose their best receivers too -- Maxx Williams and Stefon Diggs, respectively -- but neither was tied inextricably to his team’s ability to move the ball like Coleman or Gordon were during the past season.

Big Ten morning links

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
9:00
AM ET
Subbing in on morning links duty. It's a big stage, but I'm ready. My friends call me Cardale.

1. Speaking of Cardale Jones, he's coming back to Ohio State, a decision that surprised many because of the way he announced his decision (with a big to-do at Ginn Academy, his high school in Cleveland). The Buckeyes quarterback joked, "I don't know why you guys made such a big deal." Us? Us?!?! Jones' decision sparked a swarm of opinions, from the positive to the skeptical. Doug Lesmerises puts it best in this excellent in-depth piece: "Jones and Ginn Academy are more than a news conference."

After proving his on-field mettle in three huge games for the Buckeyes, Jones showed how much he had matured Thursday, sincerely talking about his desire to get an education and set an example for other underprivileged kids from Cleveland. Sure, the news conference was unusual, but it provided great exposure for Ginn Academy and the good things that happen there.

Time will tell if Jones made the right call for his pro football future. His draft stock might never be higher. He might not retain the starting job next season, although he has a major advantage right now as Ohio State's only healthy option. Still, he seemed like a man at peace with his decision. Jones is on the right track, both in football and in life. And as college football fans, you should be thrilled he's sticking around for another season.

2. The NCAA's methods for getting Penn State to sign a consent decree in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal are facing more scrutiny. A USA Today investigation finds that NCAA president Mark Emmert had virtually no support to impose the so-called death penalty on Penn State, a threat then-PSU president Rodney Erickson said was made. Emmert appears to have been bluffing.

This is more good news for those challenging the NCAA for imposing the historic sanctions against Penn State (and Penn State officials for accepting them). Momentum seems to be building for a settlement in the lawsuit filed by two state officials against the NCAA and Penn State, as a trial date looms Feb. 17. How will the summer of 2011 be remembered? As more facts are revealed, the narrative is changing.

3. Graham Couch makes some good points in his guide for Big Ten fans to counter SEC snobbery. It's important for fans to understand the philosophical differences in the ways leagues are run. Big Ten fans should be proud of the league's broad-based philosophy and the opportunities it offers to so many athletes, while also demanding market-value investment in football, which is certainly possible.

This league can be good in a lot of sports without shortchanging its football fans.

Elsewhere ...

West Division
East Division

 
video

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Even in the hours before Monday evening's title game, coaches were fairly satisfied with how the initial College Football Playoff had worked out.

And, no, Baylor coach Art Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson were not among those I asked.

Several coaches tried to project themselves in the place of Urban Meyer, even before the Buckeyes won later that night.

"[Ohio State] would not have sniffed it [in the BCS era]," one coach told me at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention. "They wouldn't have had a chance. To say we're going to settle it on the field now, this first year has proved that. Teams that wouldn't have had a chance were given one."

Most project that Alabama, a one-loss SEC champ, and FSU, the undefeated reigning champ, would have been the teams to play for the crystal football under the previous system. So, yeah, Oregon and Ohio State -- the teams that wound up playing for the championship -- would have been left playing for the Rose Bowl trophy.

"There's no way FSU would have been left out," one coach said.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video

National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Matt Schick to break down how the Buckeyes can utilize on-field success to bulk up their No. 7 recruiting class.
video

Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren join ESPN's Phil Murphy to update where the six uncommitted top-10 recruits stand in their college decision processes.
1. When I heard Cardale Jones say, "I’m not ready for that level yet," meaning the NFL, I thought he meant that he believed he was not ready for that level yet. Silly me. I don’t know who beat the drum to say that Jones would leave, but that would be a shortsighted decision. By staying at Ohio State, he’s got a better shot at a long NFL career, even if he doesn’t retain the Buckeyes’ starting job. He will be a year older and his skills a year sharper when he goes to the NFL. The pros have chewed up and spit out experienced quarterbacks who weren’t emotionally or intellectually ready. And Ohio State and its vast alumni network will love him for staying. Talk about your long-term contracts.

2. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz held an unusual news conference Wednesday, during which he said that he hasn’t been spending enough time on football. Ferentz said raising money for the Hawkeyes’ new football building pulled him away. And there is this: after 16 years as a head coach, not to mention nine years as a Hawkeyes assistant in the '80s, "I’ve got a pretty good-sized family tree," Ferentz said. When former players stop in, Ferentz wants to see them. But, he said, he needs to see his current players, live or on video, more than he has. I remember Joe Paterno buckling down like that after Penn State went 7-5 in 1992. Next four years: 42-7.

3. I’ll say this for UAB -- they keep it entertaining. Faculty senates are supposed to resent football, aren’t they? How often do we read of professors on salary freezes while coaches get six-figure raises? But at UAB, more than two-thirds of the faculty senate approved a no-confidence vote in President Ray Watts because he killed football. The senate, like the football program, is on the losing side of a political battle. University trustees don’t want any program to detract from the football program in Tuscaloosa, one hour and untold millions of dollars away. As if a healthy UAB football program could.
CLEVELAND -- Cardale Jones just won't stop pulling upsets.

With everybody once again expecting one thing from the Ohio State quarterback, somehow he found a way to manage another stunner and deliver for the underdog on Thursday afternoon at the Ginn Academy.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had previously suggested Jones' professional stock might never be higher. A news conference in his hometown instead of on campus was scheduled, and a boisterous crowd of students and teachers, family and friends expected Jones to cash in on his rapid rise from third-stringer to national-title winner. Even when he strolled out from some double doors in the corner of the gymnasium with Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” blaring, the signs seemed to be pointing to the redshirt sophomore bolting for the NFL.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCardale Jones pulled another surprise Thursday, announcing his intention to return to Ohio State next season.
But just like Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon found out, Jones has a few tricks up his sleeve. And for at least another season, the Buckeyes will be the ones who get to put them to use.

“My decision was very simple,” Jones said. “After talking it over with my family, my friends, my coaching staff, I’m going to return next year for school.

“It’s everybody’s dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate sport to make it to the next level, but at my point in my career, I feel like it’s best for me to go back to school. ... I don’t know why you guys made this such a big deal. This was very simple for me. The NFL, after three games, it was really out of the question for me.”

Jones did kick around his options over the past three days since the Buckeyes knocked off the Ducks in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, but by Thursday morning, when he met with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his high school coach, Ted Ginn, he already had his mind made up. As he helped keep the Buckeyes stocked with proven options to lead the attack next season, Jones also struck one more blow against another long-standing favorite, burying the tired jokes about his Twitter gaffe about “playing school” by making the choice to return to it and finish his degree.

He hardly could have been blamed if he decided to strike when the iron was hot, cashing in on the unlikely string of events that gave him an opportunity to lead the Buckeyes in the postseason after both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett suffered season-ending injuries. Jones made the most of that unexpected chance, and when he proved that he had been working on more than just his incredible physical tools, NFL scouts and general managers became increasingly more interested in him as a prospect.

But aside from the lack of a degree, his incomplete on-field résumé played a factor in Jones' decision-making process. The incredibly small sample size gives him ample room to grow. And while there is no guarantee that Jones will be able to hold on to the starting job when next season starts, Barrett's recovery and questions surrounding Braxton Miller make Jones Ohio State's No. 1 quarterback in spring ball.

“[Meyer] always preaches to us that education is what is most important, and he knows and we know that with all three of us back next year, it’s going to bring out the best in us,” Jones said. “Hopefully I am the starter, but I mean, if I’m not I’ll have to wait for my opportunity to present itself again.

“He didn’t make me any promises. He told me what I had to do and what I have to improve on and that was about it. ... I think he was a little shocked, but he understood."

The shock factor should be gone by now. Jones has proved that he’s full of pleasant surprises for the Buckeyes and upsets for just about everybody else.
Is there a more entertaining player in college football than Cardale Jones? Unknown in November other than an unfortunate tweet, Jones became an improbable leader for an improbable playoff contender that won the national championship Monday night.

And he's not going anywhere. Jones surprised many Thursday by announcing he will return to Ohio State rather than enter the NFL draft. He scheduled a news conference at Ginn Academy, his high school in Cleveland, which led many to think the redshirt sophomore would go pro despite only three career starts (all in the postseason).

Jones stepped up again in the spotlight, this time at a podium, as he discussed why he's coming back to Columbus. His Buckeyes teammates, meanwhile, stole the show on social media.

Let's look at their comments before, during and after Jones' big announcement.

Jones' charismatic roommate, Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell, kicked things off with a heavy dose of sarcasm. He also issued a friendly reminder to his roomie. As the 4 p.m. ET scheduled start for Jones' news conference came and went, Buckeyes linebacker Darron Lee chimed in. Around 4:15 p.m., Jones finally entered the Ginn Academy gymnasium to Drake's "Started from the Bottom," prompting reaction from Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Jones' podium performance impressed his Buckeyes teammates. Bennett agreed but couldn't help but chide Jones about his past issues with class attendance. Jones said he plans to study financial planning and pursue a career in the field when he's done with football. Living with Powell certainly will help in his education. Thank goodness for that.
video

ESPN Big Ten reporter Austin Ward discusses the atmosphere when Ohio State QB Cardale Jones declared that he would return to school and Jones' opportunity to lead the Buckeyes' offense next season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Buckeyes Thank The Fans
Ohio State quarterbacks Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller thanked Buckeyes fans for supporting the team throughout its journey to the national championship.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video