Cardale Jones started the year as Ohio State’s third-string quarterback and led the Buckeyes to a national championship, while Heisman winner Marcus Mariota’s season ended without the honor that mattered to him most.
Both are now left pondering a jump to the NFL.
Entering Monday night’s game, Mariota said he would trade the Heisman Trophy he won this season for a national championship because the team honor was more important to the Oregon Ducks’ junior quarterback.
Instead, Jones and the Buckeyes overpowered the Ducks for a 42-20 victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T.
It might have been Mariota’s final game with Oregon. He has until Thursday to decide whether he will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. Mariota, who already has completed his degree, is expected to be a top pick.
Did the devastating loss change his mind about coming back?
“I’m sure it will weigh in a little bit, but there’s a lot of other things that have to play into that decision,” he said. “There’s starting grad school, coming back for another year to improve, there’s a lot of other things that could bring me back. It’s just not specifically this loss.”
Jones, a third-year sophomore, is also eligible to enter the draft. It’s now a feasible option after the way he played in the final three games of the season, and since there’s no guarantee he’ll be the Buckeyes starter next season.
Jones was MVP of the Big Ten championship game, a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in his first college start. He then led the Buckeyes to wins over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in Monday night’s national championship game.
Asked about the NFL, Jones says “it’s definitely a ‘Who knows?’ right now.”
Jones’ top priority is getting his degree. But if he returns next season, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep the No. 1 job with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett possibly waiting in the wings.
Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin in his first college start. He passed for 243 yards and another TD in a 42-35 win over Alabama. He turned in another solid performance in the title game, despite an odd play that resulted in a fumble, completing 16 of 23 for 242 yards and a score with one interception.
“It’s up in the air, sort of, because my No. 1 priority is graduating from Ohio State University and walking away with something that no one can take away from me,” Jones said.
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