Statistic Resume: Played Quarterback from 2013-2015, threw for 2322 yards and 15 touchdowns, ran for 617 yards and 4 touchdowns, finished 11-0 as a starting quarterback, and won the 2014 Big Ten Championship, the 2015 Sugar Bowl, and the 2015 National Championship.
Nickname: 12 Gauge
True story–following the upset of Alabama in the 2014-15 College Football Playoff (which happens to be my favorite Ohio State game of all time) I googled Cardale Jones, printed out a picture, and taped it onto my locker and let it hang there for as long as my teachers allowed. I think that describes the experience that pretty much all Ohio State fans had with Cardale. Yes, our time with him was short lived, but man, it was one heck of a time.
Through three and a half months of college football, the 2014 Ohio State season could be described as inspirational, thrilling, and more than any of those, satisfying. But it was not at that point legendary, and no Buckeye fan would claim it to be their favorite season. Sure, we had survived an overtime game against Penn St. in Happy Valley, avenged the loss to Michigan State in 2013, and had already clinched a spot in the Big 10 Championship. Yet, the season was going to be remembered as ‘what could have been’ had the Buckeyes not lost Braxton Miller to injury in pre-season and subsequently lost to an inferior Virginia Tech in the beginning of the year.
First play of the fourth quarter as Ohio State holds a 28-21 lead over the Team up North, JT Barrett executes a quarterback keeper on 2nd & 1, but is tragically tackled in an awkward way that breaks his ankle. That’s when everything changed. Little did we know, the 6’5″ monster truck of a quarterback that came in to replace JT Barrett would be the one to take us over the top. Cardale was serviceable in closing out that game, but the real fireworks started in Indianapolis against Wisconsin. Right away, he fired a 50 yard bomb to Devin Smith, who practically somersaulted as he caught the touchdown and foreshadowed things to come. Cardale Jones would finish with 257 yards and three passing touchdowns on the way to Ohio State’s 59-0 victory over the helpless Badgers. Good, but could he do it facing Alabama, the consensus best team in the country? Yes, yes, and yes. Cardale had a few mishaps that were natural considering his lack of experience, but just ask NFL star Landon Collins, who Cardale trucked three different times in that ball game, whether or not he was a problem for the vaunted Crimson Tide. Cardale fired multiple deep balls to Devin Smith again and always fall fell forward for first downs, most importantly on his one yard plunge that set up Zeke Elliot’s game winner. After upsetting Alabama, the Buckeyes rolled over Oregon to win the title, and Cradle once again made us ooh and ahh at his bullet passes and ability to obliterate a defensive nose tackle.
Now, I’m not saying that me or any other Ohio St. fans wanted JT to get injured. In fact, our common sentiment at time of the injury was that swapping Cardale for JT might cost us the Big Ten Title in the following week. But looking back, any sensible fan realizes that we only could have won the national title had Cardale taken the starting role. There are many reasons why, but non more obvious than Cardale’s superior arm strength. JT and his notorious noodle arm could never have opened up the field enough to take down an Alabama. Cardale forced opponents’ safeties to stay back in fear of him unleashing bombs downfield, which opened up space in the middle for the Buckeyes do what they’ve always done since the days of Woody Hayes. Run. The. Ball.
After a full off season of debate, Cardale was given the starting job on the opening night of the 2015 season. Despite having a plethora of future professionals, the Buckeye offense was downright dreadful as Cardale started the first seven games of the season. That lead to him being benched for JT before declaring for the draft at the end of the season. Looking back, it’s clear that the problem wasn’t number 12 in Scarlet, it was the offensive play callers Tim Beck and Ed Warinner, who utilized their resources about as well as Entertainment 720. Even if 2015 was a letdown, Cardale still had his moments, my personal favorite being his celebrate spin on the Buckeye sideline after Braxton made the move on the field.
So why Cardale? Why does he ultimately crack the list? People who know me know how competitive I am. They know that I relish victory and have a mortal hatred of losing. Being an Ohio State fan in Philadelphia, PA, I often felt like I was competing against my friends. None of them watched college football as much as I did or were even fans of Ohio State rivals for that matter, but they took joy in rooting against my beloved Buckeyes. So after years of failure, the joy I got from Ohio State finally climbing over the national title hump was incomparable. And who was leading that team, playing the most important position in team sports? Well it was none other than Mr. Cardale Jones, the 12 Gauge himself. He’s the one who made me feel like a winner, the one who validated my fandom despite opposition from those I interacted with. He made me feel a great pride in being an Ohio State Buckeye fan, and that was more than enough to vault him into the top ten of my all time favorite Ohio State Buckeyes.