COLUMBUS, Ohio — The jarring truth is that either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones is going to be Ohio State's backup quarterback in the very near future.
The best backup quarterback in college football. A guy who could start almost everywhere but in crowded Columbus.
When decision day comes, the loser in the nation's most interesting quarterback derby may handle it better than the coaches in charge of making the decision.
"Yeah, that'll probably be a tough one," Buckeyes quarterback coach Tim Beck said at Ohio State media day on Sunday. "Thanks for bringing that up."
For now, at least, Jones and Barrett sound like they will be at peace with whatever head coach Urban Meyer, Beck and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner decide.
"I know how I'm going to handle it [if Jones starts]," Barrett said. "Obviously, you didn't make the plays to make this the best offense it can be. Who am I going to blame? Am I going to blame the coach? Am I going to blame Cardale? That doesn't make sense."
Said Jones: "If I'm not the starter, then I should have worked harder and done better in camp. Simple."
Of course, it's easier to say the right things now, before anyone actually has to swallow that reality and stand on the sideline when Ohio State's offense takes the field. Which is why the Buckeyes coaching staff is sweating all factors great and small in making this decision.
They already cleared some significant room at the position with two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller moving to receiver this summer, in the wake of a second shoulder surgery. The senior hasn't been available to local media since Sports Illustrated broke that story, so his presence at media day actually overshadowed Barrett and Jones. He also provided Meyer a mind-game weapon to aim at opening opponent Virginia Tech.
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Meyer volunteered this Sunday: "We were going to run a double pass the other day and I want to make sure he's ready to go throw it, too." Coaches are famously secretive about their gameplan, and all of a sudden Meyer is going to spout off about a gadget play?
Miller also did his part to thicken the scouting report for the Hokies: "I was in the backfield [Saturday] at running back. It's like playing a video game, where you can put anybody anywhere. For real."
This also appears to be for real: there is no separation yet at the position Miller vacated.
In an effort to keep everything rigorously fair, Meyer opened fall camp with a coin flip between Barrett and Jones to see who would take the field with the No. 1 offense. Jones won the flip, then called for a change in format. He and Barrett now are alternating days as the titular "starter."
"Just when you think one guy is going to make a move, the other guy comes back," Beck said. "It's two heavyweights going at it."
Meyer has said he wants daily data reports from practice to assist in making a purely objective decision. Beck said the data includes passing efficiency, third-down stats, red-zone production and other information.
"I kind of look at everything to see who's performing best, and who's the best fit for our team," Beck said. "… This week will be a huge week."
Ohio State is heading into a week with eight practices, including three two-a-days. Meyer has labeled this national title repeat season "The Grind," and this week will be the grinding-est part of preseason.
By the end of this stretch, the Buckeyes staff probably will have a pretty good idea who its starter will be. Whether they share that information publicly is altogether different.
Both Barrett and Jones were hugely successful last year, but they're very different guys. Barrett is smaller (6-foot-1, 223 pounds) and faster, the greater running threat, the more serious, Type-A football obsessive. Jones is a monster (6-5, 249) with a big arm and a goofy side, more prone to occasionally testing his coaches' patience.
They've actually been through this competition thing before. More than once.
In spring 2014, Jones edged out Barrett to be Miller's backup. But in fall camp, Barrett surged back past Jones on the depth chart. When Miller went down, Barrett stepped in – and Jones was depressed.
"I kind of went to a dark place," he said. "… I had the wrong mindset about everything, very negative. 'They screwed me, I should be the starter. I'm going to go through the motions.' "
That mindset didn't lift until after Barrett led Ohio State past Michigan State in November, clearing the way for a Big Ten East Division title and a chance to win the league championship. Jones adjusted his attitude then.
"We had a really great chance and a great team," Jones said. "I didn't want to be the guy that brings it down."
Still, he didn't necessarily see himself as the guy who would lift Ohio State up to a national title. Until Barrett broke his leg against Michigan. Then it just sort of happened, and Jones' life has changed.
He had no table last year at media day, and no reporters wanted to talk to him. This year the reporter crowd was thick as Jones sat with his 9-month-old daughter, Chloe, on his lap. She had an Ohio State pacifier in her mouth and a "12 gauge" wristband in her hand, referring to her dad's nickname inspired by his jersey number and strong arm.
Of course, Barrett didn't have a table last year, either. This year, his was adjacent to Jones'. Meyer said the two have gotten along famously throughout this competition – which is exactly what you'd expect a coach to say. And the coach knows that.
"People say those things and sometimes it's not genuine," Meyer said. "This one is very genuine. … They encourage each other, they push each other. It's unique. … It's one of the most refreshing competitions I've ever witnessed."
It's certainly one of the most interesting in recent college football history. The hard part will be the August day when urban Meyer and his staff tell a really good quarterback he wasn't good enough.