2016 Season Preview: J.T. Barrett is The Man, But Young Talent Awaits in Ohio State's Quarterback Room

By Eric Seger on August 20, 2016 at 7:15 am
A preview of Ohio State's quarterback room for the 2016 season.

Quick — everyone read this sentence: J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned starting quarterback for the Ohio State football team.

Take a deep breath.

Feels good, doesn't it, not having to wondering who Urban Meyer is going to trot out with the first-team offense at high noon Sept. 3 against Bowling Green. Barring anything extremely unforeseen, the redshirt junior will take the first snap against the Falcons, unlike last season where the world outside of the program had no idea if it would be Barrett or Cardale Jones against Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night.

Instead, Barrett is set to team up with Pat Elflein — who moved from guard to center — to make Ohio State more than formidable and experienced down the middle of its offense in 2016. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

"If you’re trying to break in a new quarterback and a new center, you’re probably not — you’ve got no shot," Meyer said this spring. "But the fact that those two guys are back, we have a shot. I think we have a decent shot to be good on offense and it’s mostly because of those two guys coming back."

Ohio State is leaning heavily on both during camp but especially Barrett, a player on the cusp of breaking a host of program records and competing for the Heisman Trophy. He is healthy after spending last summer on the mend from a broken ankle, no longer has Jones in the mix for competition and is also in Year 2 with quarterbacks coach Tim Beck.

"It’s different because my boy 12 ain’t here," Barrett said Aug. 7. "But as far as a battle or the way the quarterback competition went, it’s a little different. I’m still just trying to find a way to get better each day especially fundamentally.

"That part didn’t change, but I just miss my boy 12."

Jones now plays for the Buffalo Bills, in the NFL with 14 of his teammates from the 2015 team. Barrett is the top dog in Beck's quarterback room, responsible in part to get what ended up being a woeful passing attack by Ohio State standards last season back on track.

Quarterbacks in 2015

We won't spend much time here because you already know the story. Jones won the job out of camp and started the first half of the games in 2015, including the offensive explosion at Virginia Tech in the season opener.

Barrett, Jones
Together no more.

Barrett played that night too, ripping off a 40-yard run and throwing a touchdown pass to Michael Thomas. As the calendar bled into October and Ohio State's passing game continued to take steps in the wrong direction, however, the back and forth at quarterback continued.

Meyer chose to utilize Barrett as his red zone option in victories against Maryland and Penn State then named him the starter ahead of a 49-7 romp against Rutgers Oct. 24.

Then came Halloween.

Police arrested and cited Barrett for OVI on Ohio State's bye weekend. Meyer suspended him for the team's next game against Minnesota, which the Buckeyes won with Jones at quarterback. Barrett returned as starter against Illinois, then Ohio State lost its only game of the year to Michigan State in mid-November.

A shuffle of the offensive coaching staff during Michigan week put Ed Warinner in the press box alongside Tim Beck, leading Barrett and the Buckeyes to thrash the Wolverines 42-13 and beat Notre Dame 44-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. Barrett received Fiesta Bowl Most Valuable Player honors after he threw for 211 yards and a touchdown and ran for 96 more.

Meyer's yo-yoing of the position remains scrutinized, hard to decipher and difficult to comprehend but the decision could not have been easy. Barrett won the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year award in 2014 and Jones led the team to the national title.

Jones led the team with 1,460 passing yards, threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Barrett finished 992 yards to go with 11 touchdowns and four picks in 2015.

Braxton Miller (!) also was credited with a completion for three yards on a touch pass against Northern Illinois and punter Cameron Johnston threw an incompletion on a botched field goal attempt against Hawai'i. Stephen Collier also played some but did not attempt a pass. He is likely out for the season after suffering a knee injury this spring.

2016 Outlook

As stated numerous times already, Barrett is Ohio State's starting quarterback. That was a done deal as soon as he took over for good late last season.

Behind him sits a pair of freshmen, though one came to campus a year earlier than the other. Joe Burrow redshirted last season behind Barrett, Jones and Collier but is the current No. 2 at the position. Former four-star prospect Dwayne Haskins is next in line, third only because he just got to campus in June. Another redshirt freshman, Torrance Gibson, is listed as a QB/WR on the team's official roster, though he said at media day he is fully a wide receiver. Walk-on Justin Cook rounds out the room.

Meyer loves Haskins because he is the "best quarterback at his age that I've ever seen." That led the head coach to say this spring he hopes Haskins pushes Burrow for the right to backup Barrett, but as of right now the job still belongs to Burrow.

Burrow starred in the spring game, throwing for 196 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 31 more.

Collier's injury puts Ohio State in a bit of a vice, however; now Barrett is the only healthy quarterback on the roster with game experience. If he goes down, Meyer and his staff will turn to a freshman to lead the offense. And as history shows, Meyer's quarterbacks are prone to injury.

"I think when it comes to backup positions, you've got to make sure you know who the backup quarterback is just in case in any game something happens to me serious or my helmet comes off or my shoelace is undone," Barrett said last week. "All of those little things."

That places the onus on not only Burrow and Haskins to prepare as much as they can like starters, but on Beck to get them ready.

"Right now, Joe (is the backup) but obviously we're always evaluating and always working our guys," Beck said. "Dwayne Haskins is a very talented guy who we're working."

Both guys can sling it — Burrow's high school statistics are absurd, plus he led Athens High School to the state title game two years ago. Haskins owns a terrific arm and puts excellent touch on the ball. Both guys, however, are looking way up at Barrett.

"We all just know we have to be ready," Burrow said. "It’s the backup’s job to know to be ready for anything. If I’m not ready then I’m not doing my job."

"I'm going to compete and if they do call me they call me," Haskins added at Media Day Sunday. "Only two scholarship quarterbacks ahead of me but whatever happens, happens. If I get the call I'll be ready."

Final Word

To be blunt, as long as J.T. Barrett stays healthy and on the field, Ohio State should not have to worry about quarterback play in 2016.

Barrett owns all the tools and is one of the most cerebral players in the country. He is threatening to rewrite the Ohio State records books once again, like he did in the 2014 season when he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. The Buckeyes need him to return to form to compete in a rugged Big Ten East.

Young, capable but inexperienced talent sits behind Barrett in Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow. But as long as the cool, calm and collected Texan stays healthy and meshes with the young talent Ohio State has at wide receiver and running back, the Buckeyes should be just fine.

"He did not have a great training camp last year, for whatever reason," Meyer said of Barrett. "There was a lot of distraction with Cardale and with who's going to play quarterback, and he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal, so he didn't have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year, and I anticipate he'll be as good a quarterback as we've had, because it's his show — he knows it and he's prepared."

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