The confetti fell, the trophy is ours and there is already a championship banner hanging in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
It’s never too early to talk about the 2015 season, and what better subject than the one that has already been beaten to death? Yes, I’m here to talk about the quarterback battle. I submit that J.T. Barrett will be your opening day starter in Blacksburg when the season kicks off at Virginia Tech.
The three-headed quarterback monster at Ohio State will grow additional heads with Stephen Collier’s redshirt season over and the additions of recruits Joey Burrow and Torrance Gibson. Assuming the real battle is between the three incumbents, the following is how I see the race playing out.
Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury is going to prevent him from returning to practice until just before the season begins. That puts him behind Barrett and Cardale Jones because he simply won’t have time to get enough reps before the season to catch up. That said, by the season opener it won’t take him much longer to recover, and—assuming he stays at quarterback—he could be ready before the Big Ten schedule.
Don’t count Miller out of the race as the team’s ultimate starting signal caller, if that’s what he wants to be. He’s been around the longest, is the most dynamic athlete of the three, and is a two-time B1G Player of the Year.
It’s easy to forget how well he played because of how his backups performed in 2014-15, but there’s a reason he was a Heisman favorite before the season started. I’m not sure why so many Ohio State fans were ready to bail on him once Barrett emerged, but that kind of talk was impossible to miss.
So, with Miller being late to the party due to his recovery, the battle to start on opening day will come down to Jones and Barrett.
Jones is a favorite of many because of recency bias. You remember the long bombs to Devin Smith against Wisconsin and his exploits against Alabama and Oregon. Jones is considered the man who brought home the championship (albeit with significant help from Ezekiel Elliott, the offensive line and the entire defense). That’s a powerful psychological hook.
But we have no way of knowing how the Buckeyes would have played in those games with Barrett. Could it have been 69-0 against Wisconsin? Would the Sugar Bowl and championship game have been more lopsided with J.T. instead of King Cardale? We have no way to know.
Barrett has some advantages over Jones. For starters, he beat out Jones last year for the position as a redshirt freshman. Clearly he showed the coaches enough to claim the position. All he did once he got the job was to erase Troy Smith’s single-season school record for passing touchdowns and Drew Brees’ conference mark for total touchdowns.
J.T. was firmly in the Heisman discussion before his ankle snapped early in the fourth quarter against Michigan. He would have thrown for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards had he not gotten hurt. Three games under Jones seems to have made some people forget that Barrett was having the best season ever by an Ohio State quarterback.
Both Barrett and Jones averaged about nine yards per passing attempt this season and their quarterback ratings were very similar (Barrett 169.82, Jones 160.15). Barrett completed 65% of his passes this season while Jones wasn’t much behind, at 61%. They both had a touchdown-to-interception ratio slightly better than 3-to-1.
While there is an argument to be made that Jones faced stronger competition, that is counterbalanced by Barrett having played behind a front five that did not come together until mid-season. Jones got the fully formed wall of slobs to play behind.
The big difference came in the run game. Barrett ran for an average of 78 yards per game and scored 11 rushing touchdowns, while Jones ran for an average of 30 yards per game in his three starts and found the end zone once. J.T. allows Meyer to run a wider variety of plays and is actually a tougher runner to stop in short yardage situations (I submit the two overtimes against Penn State as Exhibit A, and he did that on one leg).
Both men are accurate passers that have shown an ability to win big games. But when it’s all said and done, Barrett will likely edge out Jones for the starting position on opening night because he’s more accurate, gives the team an added dimension with his legs, and gets further in his progressions. “The Distributor” is just slightly more polished.
*For a fair comparison, these numbers count only his games as a starter.