Surprise! Cardale Jones is staying at Ohio State

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Cardale Jones is entering the NFL dra … wait, what?

Jones, Ohio State’s College Football Playoff-winning quarterback, treated America to a pair of surprises Thursday. First, Jones tweeted that a “life changing decision” would be shared with the public at 3 p.m. CT. Naturally, that led to barely sourced tweets from individuals in the beloved media confirming that Jones would be turning pro, which encouraged the rest of us to begin reacting (great decision! terrible decision!) with typical bluster. But then …

Then — televised live by ESPN, the Big Ten Network and other outlets — Jones rose to a podium in the gym of his Cleveland high school and declared:

“My decision was very simple. After talking it over with my family, my friends, my coaching staff, I’m going to return next year for school.”

What the Buck?

Yeah, it’s a little odd that Jones called an off-campus press conference to announce that he’s staying put. At first, it came off as a little attention-grabby. But you know what? Jones — clad in a “12 Gauge” t-shirt, that being his nickname — was humble. He was classy. He was every bit as impressive as he’d been throughout the playoff, and by that I mean off the field. On the field, he played like a superstar. Off it, he was composed, bright, friendly and sincere.

So when he talked Thursday about school — about academics — as much as he did about football, it was really nice. This is a player who once publicly questioned the importance of going to class, who once was a couple of whiskers away from being kicked out of school. Now, he studies microeconomics and loves it.

And let’s be real — staying in school is the right move for football and financial reasons, too. With only three games under his belt as a starter and only three-plus months before that spent taking No. 2 snaps in practice, Jones would’ve been perhaps the least-experienced quarterback in the history of the draft. That’s no way to enter the NFL. Also, there were indications he’d have been a prospect in the range of the second-to-fourth rounds. A year from now, he could be a first-rounder. Who knows? Maybe a No. 1 overall pick.

“In my opinion,” he said, “I think I can get a lot better.”

Of course, we don’t even know yet if Jones will be the starter in 2015 for the Buckeyes. As you’ve been reminded of upward of half a million times, Jones was Ohio State’s No. 3 quarterback when senior Braxton Miller went down in training camp with a season-ending injury, and then its No. 2 quarterback until redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett got hurt in the regular-season finale. All three could be back next season. Miller and Barrett might both miss spring ball, but at some point Jones will have a heck of a competition on his hands.

“I’ll have to deal with that when the time comes,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m the starter.”

My money is on Jones. Side bet: I think Miller will transfer, too.

Meantime, good for Jones for sticking around the college game — the college life — a while longer. Good for him for blocking out the noise that surely came from some, perhaps many, pro-NFL “advisors.”

“It’s my life,” he said. “I have to live it, not them..”

Back to campus it is for 12 Gauge. He’ll be greeted — for the second time this week — like a king.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg

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