J.T. Barrett has been through this once before.
Around this time last year, Barrett and Cardale Jones were competing for a spot: Ohio State’s backup quarterback. Braxton Miller was slated to be entering his fourth year as the Buckeyes’ starter, and the winner of the competition between Barrett and Jones would be named No. 2 behind the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.
Barrett won that battle with Jones, and when Miller went down with a season-ending injury just 12 days before Ohio State opened its 2014 season, the then redshirt-freshman was thrust into the national spotlight.
Barrett responded by going 11-1 as a starter, broke nearly every single-season Big Ten record held by a quarterback and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting before suffering a season-ending injury of his own in the regular-season finale against Michigan.
Fast-forward 12 months from the last time Barrett and Jones competed for a job and there’s a much different feel. Jones replaced Barrett when he went down last season and led the Buckeyes to the national title. Miller returned for his senior season, but opted to switch positions and is now a wide receiver.
Because of Jones’ success in Barrett’s absence at the end of last year, the competition between the two is amped up even more. Both have achieved high levels of success on college football’s grandest stage.
But Barrett has a different mindset for this year’s competition with Jones. He’s not going to worry as much about the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with a cannon arm as he is going to focus on himself and how he performs individually.
“I feel like the first time we prepared for the backup spot, a lot of people don’t remember that last spring, I was too busy worried about extra stuff,” Barrett said Monday as Ohio State opened fall camp. “If he made a good play, I was like, ‘Ah, I’ve gotta do this. I’ve gotta force it or whatever.’
“That fall, I was just like, ‘Let me focus on the things I can control.’ That’s my concern is worrying about me right now and do the best I can to help our offense be successful.”
Control what you can control. It’s one of the oldest clichés in sports, but for this specific situation, it almost fits. Barrett can’t concern himself with what Jones is doing or he could, potentially, throw himself off his game at a time when he needs to be nearly perfect.
And despite being constantly watched and evaluated by head coach Urban Meyer and Co., Barrett said he doesn’t feel any added pressure.
“I saw Peyton Manning said pressure is something when you’re unprepared,” Barrett said. “I don’t feel like I’m unprepared.”
“Playing quarterback at Ohio State, I don’t feel like it should be taken lightly,” he continued. “With that, if everything is going to be evaluated then go ahead, I’m gonna do my best at everything. I don’t have a problem, I don’t feel pressure with it, I just feel like I’m going to be myself and be the best I can on the field in making plays and getting the ball to the guys I need to.”
Barrett beat out Jones last fall when the two went head-to-head last fall. He’s confident, and hopeful, he can do it again.
This time around, though, there’s a little bit more riding on the competition.
“Naturally, you want to stay at your best and you’ve always gotta compete at your position,” Barrett said. “In order to not be complacent, you’ve got to compete at every position.”