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Sugar Bowl: Jones, Sims rise as unexpected stars

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones opened the season stuck behind one Heisman candidate and another talented enough to throw his name in the mix, too. Alabama’s Blake Sims succeeded a Heisman finalist, outdueled a more heralded challenger and emerged as the Crimson Tide’s offensive leader.

The two quarterbacks will lead their teams into a College Football Playoff matchup Thursday night in the Superdome in New Orleans. Sure, they won’t get the hype of the matchup between the last two Heisman winners, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, but the Buckeyes and Tide will also be banking heavily on their quarterbacks.

Jones replaced an injured J.T. Barrett, who replaced an injured Braxton Miller. He started the 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.

Sims beat out Florida State transfer Jake Coker after a preseason battle, and broke the single-season school passing mark of 2013 Heisman runner-up AJ McCarron.

Here’s the tale of the tape of the “other” two quarterbacks in the playoffs:

Name: Blake Sims.

Team: Alabama.

Height: 6-0.

Weight: 208.

Year: Fifth-year senior.

Career starts: 12-1.

Coming out of high school: Sims was rated a four-star athlete at Gainesville (Georgia) High School, where he led his team to the AAA state championship game in 2009.

First start: Sims passed for 250 yards against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome, a huge step toward declaring himself the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 quarterback.

Impressive stat: Was at his most efficient in the SEC championship game against Missouri. Sims completed 23 of 27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns.

Troublesome stat: Sims was intercepted three times in the regular-season finale against Auburn, helping keep the Tigers in the game. But he threw only four interceptions in the other 12 games.

On the move: Sims doesn’t run a lot, but opponents have to be wary of the former running back’s moves and quickness.

Public perception: Many reporters and fans alike thought Coker would win the starting job. Now, Sims is a team captain heavily praised by coach Nick Saban and teammates for his leadership and perseverance.

They said it: “I’d say it’s pretty inspirational,” Saban said about Sims’ rise. “I’d say he has a lot of respect from his teammates and I’d say he has a tremendous impact on everybody around him.”

He said it: “We talk about what we can do,” he said about the legacy he and this team will leave. “I keep telling them one game at a time. We can’t live that legacy if we don’t get past Ohio State, we can’t doubt Ohio State. They’re a very good team and they can beat you.”

Name: Cardale Jones.

Team: Ohio State.

Height: 6-5.

Weight: 250.

Year: Redshirt sophomore.

Career starts: 1-0.

Coming out of high school: Acclaimed recruit out of Glenville Academic Campus, a Cleveland high school he led to the state finals as a junior. Also spent a year at Fork Union (Virginia) Military Academy to reinforce his grades before enrolling at Ohio State.

First start: After J.T. Barrett’s broken ankle against Michigan, Jones started Ohio State’s shocking 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 6. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns without an interception to earn game MVP honors.

Impressive stat: Says he can throw a football 85 yards. However, “It’s not that important unless a guy can get down there to catch the ball.”

Troublesome stat: Has never faced defensive pressure like he will against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

On the move: For a big man, Jones is deceptively nimble although he’ll never be mistaken for Usain Bolt. Famously vaulted a couple of potential tacklers in games during mop-up duty this season — something he has been instructed to not try against the Crimson Tide.

Public perception: He’s the guy who two years ago infamously posted on his Twitter account, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” He was suspended the next day and now says it was a foolish mistake that he regrets.

They said it: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on Jones: “Cardale is a great story. It’s still a process now. He’s not the grown man that he needs to be, but he’s getting close. You know, the thing that really struck me is when he made a mistake during the course of the (Big Ten title) game, and I gave him (a glare) and was ready to dive right in. He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I made a mistake, Coach. It won’t happen again.’ That’s a good sign of maturity.”

He said it: Jones on his role on the Buckeyes: “It’s not how well I’ve played in a game, it’s how well we’ve played as a team and how our offense, defense and kicking game came together. So just basically, (I stay grounded by) letting myself know it’s not over. The Big Ten, that’s one of our goals around here. But we’re chasing a national championship now.”

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