"So who was the leader of that team? Who kept it all together?
The star freshman from Ohio State's magical 2002 season had fielded at least two dozen questions at this point, but he wasn't showing the slightest hint of being bothered by the attention. He was happy to share the stories he lived through almost half of his life ago.
Me, I was less comfortable and starting to feel guilty - I had been asked to attend the Buckeyes' game with UNLV last month with a corporate group and my host had given me a plus-one to invite. I asked old Number Thirteen. He said yes immediately. We had ourselves a man date.
Admittedly I was naive and did not properly grasp what would happen in a large group of Buckeye fans with their plus-ones all pregaming at Champps with omg it's Maurice Clarett. He's been a friend for years. I've interviewed him too many times to even count. I ran out of questions for him a long time ago. I did. Naive.
They wanted to know who the real MVP of that title was. Clarett would know. Would he say it was himself? That sure felt like the anticipation.
"Who was that guy?" They continued. "All the close games! How did you keep it together? Was -- "
"Krenzel," he interrupted. Deadpan response.
"Craig Krenzel," Clarett said. "Our starting quarterback [side note - the best thing about Reece telling Ohio State stories is how he unnecessarily adds descriptors] Craig helped me out at Northwestern. He kept us alll cool at Wisconsin. Penn State, Purdue, Michigan. Miami. It was always Krenzel. He was that guy for us."
No response from the inquisition. I already knew most of those stories; Clarett had told me some of them. My personal favorite is the one in Madison when on a 3rd down buried deep in their own territory, the game tight and Camp Randall shaking, Krenzel got into the huddle (hey, remember huddles?) and said, "guys...guys...listen."
They listened. All they could hear was a relentless, roaring crowd that hated them.
"Listen to that. How cool is college football?"
It was pretty cool. Craig was right. Kind of a funny time to notice that, but the nerves evaporated just like that. The offense calmed down and coalesced. The Buckeyes won.
Krenzel didn't dazzle anyone with his stats. Buckeye fans don't pine for the next Krenzel to show up - they grumbled about him merely being a game manager all year. His greatest value to Ohio State's championship run was his intellect, leadership and mettle. Tressel trusted him implicitly, largely because he helped keep any poison out of the Buckeyes' body.
It's been 15 years since that 14-0 run, and J.T. Barrett isn't Craig Krenzel. He has the intellect, leadership and mettle - and Urban trusts him implicitly, largely because he has helped keep any poison out of the Buckeyes body for years now.
Barrett is no Krenzel. He has the stats too.
Man on a mission— NCAA Football (@NCAAFootball) October 28, 2017
33/39, 328 passing yards, 4 TDs
95 rushing yards
Comeback win for the upset pic.twitter.com/p3bphmShGM
This isn't Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland or Nebraska. Barrett needs to deliver against a real team. Sure, okay. Stats matter. Wins matter. Victories should also be cosmetically appealing and enjoyable because Ohio State requires a little more than just winning.
But watching on television or even in the stadium, or gazing at the stat sheet would not scream at you about just how valuable Krenzel was to the 2002 team. It should aid with the case for Barrett, seeing as how he owns so many school and B1G records the book practically looks photoshopped. Sure, okay. Stats matter. Records matter. Somehow they matter less for him. It's hard to understand why.
Barrett has been that guy since his first home game, which was against Virginia Tech. He was that guy against Michigan State the following season, when his running back blasted the coaching staff following the loss. He was that guy in Happy Valley after last season's collapse and again in Glendale after running for his life all night. He was the guy before and after Baker Mayfield planted the flag at midfield.
He has been the guy that keeps Ohio State from eating itself in a crisis. It's him. The Distributor shares the credit and swallows the blame. He drinks the poison to save his team from it. Say that sentence aloud. Listen to that. How cool is college football?
This is an element title teams are required to have, far beyond recruiting stars and coaching schemes. In Columbus it's been Barrett for years, regardless of who his receivers or position coach happened to be that season. Perhaps beating Penn State the way he did this afternoon will finally move some of his detractors to seeing this. Others will refuse to accept it. He'll never be perfect enough.
But Ohio State's opponents all know. And Penn State knows it was him. He broke their hearts.