When a reporter wrongly thought J.T. Barrett was Ezekiel Elliott — the star junior running back who is set forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft early — at the podium following Ohio State's 44-28 victory against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, the quarterback offered a lighthearted joke with respect to the mistake.
"It's all good, bro, but I'm not Zeke," Barrett said.
"I know you're not Zeke," the reporter responded.
"Then why did you say it was my last game?" Barrett asked, grinning, before the reporter fumbled over himself trying to provide a reason for the error.
He didn't get a chance to, however.
"No, it's not his last game," Urban Meyer said of Barrett, putting his hand on his left shoulder and offering a huge smile.
— Eric Seger (@EricSeger33) January 2, 2016
Meyer was undoubtedly excited the Buckeyes had just beaten Notre Dame by two possessions to finish the 2015 season with a bang and notch the program's 50th win over the last four years, but his elation also had an underlying theme.
Ohio State could have to replace as many as seven offensive starters in 2016. Barrett, though, after throwing for 211 yards and a touchdown while running for 96 more New Year's Day, will be back. Meyer knows how important it is that he'll have stability in the form of a returning starter at the most vital position on a football team.
"He'll be back," Meyer said.
Barrett's return is crucial for a unit that at times struggled in 2015. An early season yo-yoing at quarterback between Barrett and redshirt junior Cardale Jones — who is also set to turn pro — was one of the reasons the group didn't perform at maximum capacity until the final weeks of the season.
Meyer had to work through offensive staff changes too, with Tom Herman leaving to become the head coach at Houston and Ed Warinner taking over offensive coordinator duties. Warinner, though, didn't move to the box to call the plays alongside new quarterbacks coach Tim Beck until the Michigan and Notre Dame games.
Meyer hasn't said whether or not Warinner will be in the box in 2016, but one thing is for sure: The man behind center is set to be the same as it was at the end of 2015.
"I think the different things that I’ll be able to do, I’ll have a lot of responsibility in the offense being that I’ve been in the offense for three years and I think I can definitely carry the load," Barrett said. "I think when the offseason starts, we’re going to start thinking about next season and getting right."
The Buckeyes lose a trio of offensive linemen — All-American left tackle Taylor Decker, two-year starting center Jacoby Boren and fifth-year senior right tackle Chase Farris — in addition to tight end Nick Vannett. They could say goodbye to a few receivers if they elect to turn pro, with Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall both weighing their options.
That's a bunch of starts and a heavy percentage of the 2014 production that could be elsewhere than Columbus next season, especially with Elliott readying himself for the next level.
However, Barrett is back and set to receive snaps from All-Big Ten performer Pat Elflein, who will move to center after starting at right guard for two seasons. Left guard Billy Price is also back, as is tight end Marcus Baugh and a bevy of young receivers chomping at the bit to show what they can do.
"I think it will be good for us being that we’ll have a lot of — the guys that are returning will be on the outside: the receivers and myself," Barrett said. "On the O-line, we’ve got Pat and Billy going to be back so that’s going to help us."
But with games at Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State in 2016 Barrett knows there will be some growing pains where he'll have to be the main guy on offense.
"The experience is going to be on the outside and with that, I want the responsibility and I’ll carry the weight on my shoulders to make plays, which I’m comfortable with," Barrett said. "I have confidence in myself in order to do that and I’m not mad at that all."
A 2015 captain, Barrett overcame a speed bump in the form of a one-game suspension resulting from an OVI citation on Halloween. He's bound to be a captain again next year, and Ohio State will need him.
He knows that. Meyer knows that. And the two want fans to know that's just fine.
"To Buckeye Nation, know that a lot of great guys are leaving, but we have guys behind them that are going to be developed, that are going to step up and make plays," Barrett said. "Great guys are going to lead, but you’re going to have to recruit in order to have guys behind them to make plays and I think that’s what we have here and that’s part of Ohio State so I think things are going to be all right."