Solely His Show, Ohio State Needs J.T. Barrett to Play Free and Without Worry in 2016

By Eric Seger on July 29, 2016 at 8:35 am
Ohio State needs the 2014 version of J.T. Barrett to return to reach new heights this fall.

CHICAGO — There is a bunch riding on J.T. Barrett's shoulders at Ohio State in 2016.

"It wasn't his team like it is this year," head coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days. "He's more than ready to go now."

He better be, because the Buckeyes cannot reach the towering expectations that won't go away as long as Meyer roams the sidelines in Columbus.

Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race in 2014, bursting on the scene in place of Braxton Miller and putting together a magnificent regular season that included 3,772 total yards and 45 combined touchdowns before he broke his ankle against Michigan. You know the rest of the story.

“There's a certain standard at Ohio State and it shouldn't change for anybody. I don't care how many people you lost.”– J.T. Barrett

Cardale Jones worked in accordance with Meyer and then-quarterbacks coach Tom Herman to beat Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon and lead Ohio State to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Barrett wasn't himself in fall camp a year ago, so Meyer picked Jones as his starter to open the 2015 season.

Eventually, Barrett won his old job back, only to deal with a hiccup in the form of an OVI citation and suspension for his team's win against Minnesota. Ohio State then lost to Michigan State with Barrett playing every snap, Meyer shuffled his offensive staff and the Buckeyes rammed through Michigan and Notre Dame to finish 12-1.

Looking back, Meyer won't say he made a mistake starting Jones. Barrett didn't earn it.

"That's one of the things I evaluated along the journey, but he didn't take it," Meyer said. "Your program falls apart if you start appointing people that don’t take it."

Now, Ohio State desperately needs Barrett back in top form and lead the offense. One of two returning starters in addition to center Pat Elflein, he doesn't have much choice. There is talent there like running back Mike Weber, wide receiver Noah Brown and others but not much game experience.

Admittedly, Barrett said he thought too much about things last fall and tried to play too perfect. It was hard not to with one of your best friends looking over your shoulder every time you made even the simplest of mistakes.

"I was thinking too much. I don't play very well when I think too much. I remember in 2014 where Coach Herman would tell me to stop thinking. He just wanted me to react," Barrett said. "That was the thing, I got to the point where I was thinking a lot. It was almost like, my thinking slowed my play down. I like playing fast and reacting to certain things and what the defense is giving me. I wasn't doing that, I was sitting there thinking and trying to break down every situation. I think that just hindered myself in that way. I have no one else to blame but myself."

Barrett never made excuses — that's not in his quiet, introverted nature. He didn't earn the job until mid-October when Meyer used him in third down and red zone situations where his production shot off the charts.

"Cardale, I say all the time he was playing better than me," Barrett said. "He deserved to start because I wasn't playing the way I knew I could play."

Meyer called Barrett and the offense at "full force" in Ohio State's victories against the rival Wolverines and Fighting Irish. Expectations from fans and others didn't change, but the reality of playing for a second-straight Big Ten title and berth in the College Football Playoff ended with that stunning loss to Michigan State. Things clicked better with Ed Warinner in the press box next to Tim Beck, and Barrett turned in magnificent performances with both his arm and legs to finish the season.

Barrett, Meyer circa 2014

"I see him going back to being J.T. like he was in the middle of his freshman year," Meyer said of his quarterback. "He's going to have a great fall."

Ohio State is still expected to win the Big Ten and Meyer believes the talent on roster potentially could be meant for bigger things, sort of like how it was in 2014. If Barrett plays the way he did then — with a clear mind — chances are good.

But they ride on him while his young teammates break into big-time college football. Meyer is 50-4 in four seasons at Ohio State, so fans are getting used to cheering for a contender every year. That won't change even though 44 scholarship players have yet to play a down of college football in their life.

"I don't think that's fair to the people that came to Ohio State before, myself and the players that are here now. There's a certain standard at Ohio State and it shouldn't change for anybody," Barrett said. "I don't care how many people you lost.

"It didn't alter or change or lower at all. I don't think that's right. Not even for the people who were legends before us but also the fans. You want us to tell the fans, 'Hey we lost some guys so I don't know about that Big Ten Championship, I'm sorry.' Buckeye Nation is going to look at you like you're crazy."

He's not wrong but is here to try and enjoy the process. Belief in Barrett comes from everywhere — his teammates, his coaches, fans, media. He's done great things on the field at Ohio State, even though he said in 2014 he often felt relieved when the job ended Saturday afternoons and checks went in the win column. Pressure as a redshirt freshman does that.

There is an aspect of fun that fell by the wayside last year too. It's not easy playing when everyone expects you to be one of the best teams ever and win by ludicrous margins.

"We need to take time out to enjoy it a little bit," Barrett said. "Whereas last year it was almost like, 'We won, whew. I'm glad we got through that one.'"

That can't be the case this year and shouldn't be, especially if Barrett has anything to say about it. After all, he'll have a hand in everything the Buckeyes do this year. Whether it be running, throwing or leading. It comes with the territory of being a captain and the starting quarterback at Ohio State.

He feels he is ready. He doesn't have a choice for the contrary.

"People want to talk to me. I guess it’s pretty cool. I never envisioned this. I never really watched media days growing up but I appreciate it," Barrett said. "I'm just a little kid from Wichita Falls, Texas, trying to make the Buckeyes better. Definitely something I never dreamed about."

Welcome to Ohio State's reality in 2016.

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