December 18, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Cardale Jones realizes many people weren't even aware he was still playing football.

It had been five years between big games - a state championship game as a junior in high school to the Big Ten title game Dec. 6 - and the only time people heard of him was because of an infamous tweet where he said going to class was pointless as a football player.

''If people forgot, I don't have a problem with that,'' Ohio State's latest replacement quarterback said Thursday. ''My teammates and my coaches knew that I was capable when ready. So it was good I got to show everyone.''

With a breakthrough game in the 59-0 rout of Wisconsin two weeks ago, Jones has suddenly reappeared.

Jones was an overlooked third-string quarterback just four months ago. Now the third-year sophomore is the central figure in a Buckeyes' offense heading into the national semifinal game against Alabama at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

No one has ever doubted Jones' big arm and big talent. But there have been a lot of questions about his intangibles.

He provided a lot of answers with three TD throws in his first collegiate start against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.

Jones was asked how he can prove it wasn't all just a fluke.

''(I'll) just prepare better than I did before,'' he said. ''That's basically it. And just staying confident, have my guys around me and keep producing. We should be good.''

The deceptively nimble 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones is a product of Ohio State's connection with Glenville Academic Campus, a high school in Cleveland that has served as a pipeline to the Buckeyes football program for more than a decade.

A highly recruited prep star, Jones led Glenville to the state championship game as a junior. When he graduated Glenville, he spent another year at a military school to buck up his grades.

But his early years at Ohio State were marked by being way down on the depth chart behind Braxton Miller and backup Kenny Guiton - and his tweet.

On Oct. 5, 2012, a day before the unbeaten Buckeyes under first-year coach Urban Meyer beat No. 21 Nebraska 63-38, Jones turned to social media to vent.

''Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL'' he railed in the tweet. ''We ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS''

Meyer suspended him soon after.

''It was just something that I did,'' Jones said on Thursday. ''I was young and very immature at that time. Of course, I didn't feel that way about academics and, of course, no one in this program feels that way about academics. It's just something that's in the past that we got over as a team. I'm still dealing with it on social media, but it's in the past.''

Meyer met with Jones, his family and his support group.

''We all know the infamous stuff when he first got here,'' Meyer said. ''He went through some really hard times. ... His support group was awesome.''

Gradually, Jones returned to the good graces of his coaches, although the tweet was never forgotten by others. It's brought up frequently by those who hate college football, hate Ohio State or hate the system of unpaid athletes straining to fit into a dated code of amateurism.

Miller started for three years, but injured his shoulder in the 2014 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson and had surgery. Jones won the starting job coming out of spring practice, beating out J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman.

But when Miller reinjured the shoulder in August, Barrett, coming off a couple of weeks of superior practices, was selected as the starter.

Barrett was spectacular, setting Ohio State records for touchdown passes (35) and total offense (3,772) before breaking his ankle against Michigan.

Jones finished that game, then got his first start in the rarified air of the Big Ten title game where he completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and the three scores without an interception and with very few missteps.

Now everyone's wondering if he can do it again.

''This guy is very, very capable,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''He's a very good passer. A big strong, athletic guy who can do all the things the other guy (Barrett) could do in terms of the quarterback runs. It's just a little different style.''

Jones was asked how he did so well against Wisconsin when he only had five days to prepare.

''No, you're wrong about that,'' he said, showing his new maturity. ''I've been getting ready for that game ever since I've been here.''

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AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed from Birmingham, Alabama.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

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