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Ohio State's Cardale Jones has big stage to show off big arm

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Welcome to Cardale Jones' world: You're a third-year sophomore quarterback making your first college start for Ohio State in Saturday's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, a must-win contest for the Buckeyes if they are to remain in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

No pressure, right?

Jones (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), who before now was best-known for an infamous 2012 tweet about having to attend classes, will start for the Buckeyes because J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan. Barrett accounted for a Big Ten-record 45 TDs this season. Jones was beaten out for the starting job by Barrett in August, after projected starter/Heisman contender Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Barrett played so well that Jones has appeared only in mop-up duty this season.

Jones has run 26 times for 206 yards and also gone 10-of-17 for 118 yards and two touchdowns; he received his most extensive playing time in a rout of Illinois, with both of his TD passes and seven of his rushes coming against the Illini.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer professes to have confidence in Jones.

"If I don't believe in a player, I'll make a comment about that. Or if we don't have the confidence in a player," Meyer said Sunday night during a teleconference. "But I do have the confidence in Cardale from what I've seen. It's not a blind confidence like most people's third-string quarterback."

Meyer also said Jones has "very good pocket presence" and "a cannon for an arm."

Ohio State also has a top-notch offensive staff. Figure on seeing slot receiver Jalin Marshall out of the "Wildcat" formation early to see how it works -- and to see how Wisconsin reacts.

While Jones lacks Barrett's quickness and speed, he is a more physical runner and presumably will be asked to do some damage between the tackles against the Badgers. Jones also has an extremely strong arm -- far stronger than Barrett's (and Miller's). His accuracy, though, really hasn't been tested.

Barrett had become Ohio State's most important offensive player. On Saturday, Jones will be asked to be a complementary player to Ohio State's other weapons, most notably tailback Ezekiel Elliott. Yes, Barrett produced big-time numbers for the Buckeyes. But to say Ohio State is doomed without him is to discount the amount of talent on this team.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen referenced the surrounding talent when he was asked about Jones during his weekly news conference.

"The key to any quarterback at the end of the day is who's around him," Andersen said. "He has talented guys around him, and the more talent you have around you, the better quarterback you're going to be."

Playing mistake-free football (or relatively mistake-free) will be a big key for Jones and Ohio State, especially considering the Buckeyes are going against a unit that ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense. Wisconsin has been especially tough against the run, allowing just 103.8 yards per game. But the Badgers were gashed on the ground in a loss to Northwestern, which doesn't have an offense anywhere near as good as Ohio State's, and in a win over Minnesota. In some respects, Jones' physical running style adds a different element to Ohio State's offense -- an element that isn't on any game tape.

Jones is from Cleveland's Glenville High, a perennial prep power that has sent numerous top-flight players to Ohio State, including Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Donte Whitner, Marcus Hall and Christian Bryant. Jones had academic issues and had to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia for one semester before enrolling at Ohio State in January 2012. He redshirted that season, then saw action on 39 plays as the third-string quarterback in 2013. He was a 220-pounder as a high school senior in 2010.

Given that he was beaten out this season by Barrett, a redshirt freshman, Jones seems likely to return to a reserve role next season. But he certainly has a chance to make sure his name lives forever in Ohio State lore with a big performance Saturday night in Indianapolis.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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