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.
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.