Piloting one offense will be the reigning Heisman winner. Leading the other is a player making just his third college start. The obvious advantage goes to the veteran, though the upside of the newcomer somewhat levels the playing field.
Ohio State has proven that it has greater quarterback depth than any team in the country — before Braxton Miller went down in the preseason, Cardale Jones was the Buckeyes’ third-string quarterback. Now that J.T. Barrett has joined Miller on the sideline, Jones is the next man up. In his short time as the starter, the redshirt sophomore has led the offense to 94 points and nearly 1100 total yards, and in games with conference and national championship implications nonetheless. Jones has averaged exactly 250 yards per game in his two starts, completing just under 60 percent of his passes and throwing four touchdowns and one interception. He showed some grind-it-out rushing ability against Alabama, carrying 17 times for 43 yards (including a 27-yard burst) to keep defenses from keying in on the Buckeye tailbacks.
But he isn’t quite as dynamic as Mariota, which is to be expected given his relative inexperience. Oregon’s redshirt junior starter led the country in passing efficiency, yards per attempt, and total touchdowns en route to the Heisman… accounting for 56 scores just this season. In his worst performance of the year, in the loss against Arizona, Mariota was stifled on the ground and coughed up the decisive fumble but still completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. Against Florida State he generated 400 yards of offense with his arm and his legs and scored as many touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) as Florida State managed all game. No player was more dynamic this season, and this is likely the swan song for a player that will also likely be the number-one overall pick in the NFL Draft.