ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cardale Jones' smile was contagious as a Gatorade bath splashed down on head coach Urban Meyer following Ohio State's emphatic 42-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night.
The quarterback's meteoric rise from third-stringer to starting quarterback for a national title winner is the stuff that those around the state of Ohio will talk about for decades to come. He won three straight games against the three 2014 Heisman Trophy finalists as an underdog, earning comparisons to Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger due to his size and arm strength.
His quick rise has been followed by questions as to whether the draft-eligible redshirt sophomore will cut short his stay in Columbus. When asked after the title game whether he will return for another year with the Buckeyes, the affable signal-caller left the door open to capitalizing on his intriguing talents at the next level.
"I'm not going to say 'definitely,'" Jones said. "(The NFL) is something that I'll consider. My most important focus is getting my degree."
Jones attended Fork Union Military Academy for one semester, so he would be the required three years removed from high school to apply for early entry into the 2015 NFL Draft. If he decides to return to OSU, he faces a potentially tough battle at retaining his starting job, despite leading the team to the title, due to the presence of former starter J.T. Barrett and possibly even two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller.
Would Jones accept returning to a backup role?
"Now that's a good question," Jones said. "I don't know."
The potential battle to be the starter for the defending national champions in 2015 was already plenty intriguing. Jones' decision before the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to apply for early entry could just add fuel to the already intense QB fire for the Buckeyes.
Here are nine other things we learned from Monday night's championship game:
2. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most dynamic rushing talents in the college game. The Buckeyes' sophomore gashed Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon for a combined 696 yards in three postseason games. If TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin put himself in the 2015 Heisman Trophy conversation with a thrashing of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, Elliott put himself in the center of it.
3. Dignitary dish: Among the notables on hand for the game were Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, a big Ohio State supporter, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and of course, Nike CEO and Ducks fan Phil Knight.
4. Somewhere, Kaelin Clay was yelling on his couch at the replay officials. Oregon receiver Byron Marshall apparently learned nothing from Utah's Clay, who lost a touchdown against Oregon earlier this season by inexplicably letting the ball go before he crossed the goal line uncontested. Marshall did pretty much the same thing against the Buckeyes, but unlike Clay, Marshall had his touchdown upheld on replay review.
5. Chris Ash didn't ask to face all three Heisman Trophy finalists, but that's the hand he was dealt. The Ohio State co-defensive coordinator faced Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Alabama's Amari Cooper, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- the trio who went to New York in December as Heisman finalists -- in three consecutive postseason games. How did they fare? Gordon was held to 76 yards on 26 carries in the Big Ten title game, his second-lowest total of the season; Cooper was limited to 71 yards on nine catches in the CFP semifinal; Mariota connected on 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
6. OSU athletic director says QB Braxton Miller is returning. Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, was seen celebrating with his teammates after their triumphant win over Oregon, but rumors continue to swirl that he'll transfer to another program for his final collegiate season in 2015. However, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Monday that Miller told him he was coming back to Columbus for next season. "Braxton has told me he's coming back," Smith said. "I don't know what upcoming decision he's got."
7. Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett had a quiet night. At least, on the field. The senior leader of the OSU defensive line recorded an assisted tackle on Oregon's opening touchdown drive to start the game, but didn't make a stop the rest of the night.
8. Whatever flaws NFL scouts find in Ohio State receiver Devin Smith's game, his ability to stretch the field won't be one of them. Smith made one grab for 45 yards against the Ducks, pushing his average per catch for the season to a whopping 28.2 yards (33 for 931).
9. Pair of Oregon underclassmen still unsure of next steps. Ducks defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have quickly jumped onto NFL radars thanks to their play in the Ducks' run to the title game. However, neither was ready to announce a draft decision Monday night. "I'm not focused on that right now, I'm just trying to soak it all in with my teammates," Buckner said. "I got an evaluation back but I'm just not going to talk about it, it's not a subject in my head right now." Armstead, considered to be the better prospect of the two, said he had not even received his evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. "I haven't made a decision yet. I'll have to sit down with my family and pray about it," Armstead said. "It's a tough decision I'm going to have to make."
10. Urban Meyer thinks Marcus Mariota will be great in the NFL.There's plenty of intrigue over Mariota's intentions for the 2015 NFL Draft, and if he decides to apply for early entry, he'll have one fan for sure in OSU head coach Urban Meyer. After containing the Heisman Trophy winner as best as he could to earn a third national title, the veteran coach noted there were plenty of traits the Ducks' signal-caller has that will translate to the next level. "Oh sure," Meyer said. "He'll be a great NFL player."