A year ago this morning, Cardale Jones wasn’t a national championship-winning quarterback, he was merely now a third-string QB and one who admitted he would soon be in a “dark place” over losing out to Barrett.
A year ago this morning, Braxton Miller was still battling a sore arm but by all outward appearances, he was the senior quarterback for one of the best teams in the nation, a two-time Big Ten MVP who dreamed his December would include a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony and not a flight to Birmingham, Ala., for another rehab visit.
Just looking at those three names, it’s incredible to think what can happen in one year’s time. During the afternoon of Aug. 18 last year, Miller threw a simple out pass and his shoulder came apart, ending his season. In one motion of an arm, the personal tracks of three players and the outlook for the Ohio State football team took tremendous turns.
That’s not all, of course. A year ago, Ezekiel Elliott was rehabbing his wrist and still settling in to being the No. 1 running back on the team. Billy Price was working feverishly on pass protection to be ready to be a starter. Darron Lee was almost an unknown, a rapidly progressing 230-pound ball of motivation who was set to take the world by storm as a starting linebacker.
The list could go on and on, but one year ago, these weren’t the champion Buckeyes. They were still trying to get to nine units strong, still learning what it meant to embrace 4 to 6, A to B and the power of the unit. They were smarting off of end-of-season losses the year prior to Michigan State and Clemson while burning through tapes of Navy’s triple-option flexbone offense for the opening game.
They were, in many ways, still unsure of themselves. They could sense determination and potential, but no one in the wildest dreams could have seen the year coming that actually happened.
I’ve thought about this a few times recently, and it has come up in interviews as well. When discussing the 2015 season and what might happen, Buckeye players and coaches can’t help but marvel at what happened in the past year.
“If you would have sat here last year at this time and said Cardale Jones is going to come in and win the national championship game, you probably would have never said that,” new quarterbacks coach Tim Beck said.
“If we were at (Big Ten) Media Days last year and Stewart (Mandel) said, ‘You know what’s really cool, Cardale Jones is going to win you the national championship?’ I would have fell right over,” Urban Meyer added.
That’s not so much a knock on Jones as it is bewilderment at everything that happened in a year’s time. Who WOULD have sat there on Aug. 18, 2014, and said they expected Jones to lead the Buckeyes to College Football Playoff wins vs. Alabama and Oregon, earning Ohio State its first title in more than a decade?
“I remember talking to my wife, saying it’s going to be a tough one,” Meyer said, reminiscing recently. “When Braxton went down and we lost to Virginia Tech … anytime you have a coaching change there is almost always one of those. You’re going to have a dip in production because usually you lose almost a whole recruiting class (so) I almost accepted the fact that … I hope we get to a decent bowl game and watch out for next year if we get them all going.
The truth of the matter is the Buckeyes’ journey to the title happened largely because of the Miller injury. Losing someone like Miller hurt, as it would any team, but it was the ultimate test of the mantras Meyer had started to wave into the Buckeye culture. 4 to 6, A to B. Next man up. Power of the unit. All of it would be tested starting Aug. 18 of last year, and all of it passed with flying colors.
“The older I get, the more games I’m a part of, it’s the ability to enter a storm and survive the storm and then come out strong,” Meyer said. “Those are the teams that win. It’s very rare. Usually what happens – you see it all the time and I’ve been a part of teams like that – all of a sudden you hit that storm. We lost to Michigan State and the ship started to rattle a little bit, and then we lose to Clemson. This year, we lost to Virginia Tech, the power of the unit, the small unit cohesion was strong enough to get us better and better.
“Against Michigan State, we went into that game and only five units played well. We played an excellent team, they beat us because they had every bit as good of players as we had. This year, we played Alabama, all nine units played at a very high level and we won the game against a very good team. That’s the whole focus.”
Think of everything that has happened in the past year. Barrett seized the moment. Jones matured at a time when all seemed lost. Miller rehabbed and has now moved to a new position. This past year has been unlike almost any other in Buckeye football history – the team and its players overcome adversity, won a title and put the program in perhaps the best spot it’s ever been.
There was the winning, sure, and the recruiting success that has the team seemingly poised for continued success, but there’s more than that. The moments have been hard to forget. Barrett leading the team when all seemed lost at Penn State, then Joey Bosa’s walkoff sack. Barrett running through the snow in Minnesota. Barrett getting hurt vs. Michigan, then watching the rest of the game in the stands with the fans. The horrible realization of what happened with Kosta Karageorge, then Michael Bennett’s heartfelt tributes through the rest of the season. Ezekiel Elliott and 85 yards that won’t ever be forgotten. Confetti snow angels in Dallas. A half-full Horseshoe two weeks later to celebrate, then a full one on a sunny day in April to see the Buckeyes again.
A lot has happened in a year, and in many ways, it all started a year ago on this date.
And as we get ready for another Buckeye campaign, always keep in mind – in college football, you never know what’s coming next. The last 365 days proved that.