Take/Counter-Take: A Healthy J.T. Barrett Would Have Won Ohio State The 2014 National Championship

By Andy Vance and David Wertheim on April 21, 2020 at 11:05 am
J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett will go down as a legend in Ohio State football history. He set damn near every career mark for quarterbacks in the program's record book.

Yet the debate about what would have happened in 2014, his redshirt freshman season, had he stayed healthy continues to circulate. If he didn't suffer a broken ankle in the fourth quarterback of the Buckeyes' 42-28 win against Michigan, would Ohio State have won a national championship?

There was no end in sight to that argument...until now. 

Take: A Healthy J.T. Barrett Would Have Won The 2014 National Championship

Andy Vance: Yes, he would have won it all

It baffles me to no end that Joe Thomas Barrett The Fourth is still something of a controversial figure among Ohio State fans. A man who set literally – and I mean literally in the literal sense, not the “I’m trying to make a point by using big words” sense – set dozens of school and conference records still draws takes by the dozens from fans and haters alike.

Don’t believe me? David Regimbal’s excellent Barrett appreciation article earlier this month drew 155 comments from our community, and it took less than 10 minutes for someone to proclaim that Ohio State would not have won the 2014 national title with JTBIV at the helm.

To this, I strenuously object.

Let me give you three irrefutable reasons why Ohio State would still have won the Natty that season with its starter and eventual three-time captain at the helm:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott was the MVP of the postseason, not Cardale Jones
  2. Ohio State’s defense was exceptional
  3. J.T. Barrett was the ideal quarterback for the Urban Meyer system

Point number one is indisputable. Zeke executed one of the most iconic plays in Buckeye history in the biggest game of the decade. You know the story - go back and read it again. You probably own the T-shirt. I have two, in fact - maybe you need another one, too, the play was that good.

Elliott emerged as one of the greatest running backs in school history by putting together a three-game stretch that included eight rushing touchdowns and 696 yards. With 76 carries from the Big Ten Championship Game to the evisceration of Oregon for all the marbles, Zeke averaged more than 9 yards per carry.

And while Zeke was keeping the ball moving and allowing Ohio State to control the clock, the Buckeye defense was grinding the opposing offense into the turf.

Wisconsin couldn’t muster a single point: 59-0 is one of the biggest laughers in conference championship history. Holding Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon to a paltry 76 yards on 26 carries (that’s 2.92 yards per carry if you’re keeping score), the Silver Bullets would have kept Ohio State on the right side of the ledger regardless of who was under/behind Center.

Likewise, the Mighty Ducks: Ohio State’s defense was dominant in critical third-down situations, holding Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in check in make-or-break situations, and giving Ohio State room to operate offensively.

The one game that gives me pause in this regard is the Alabama game. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide was able to score on the Bullets early, and ‘Bama was in the game until the Fat Lady started crooning… but again, Ohio State’s third-down defense was the difference-maker.

On 3rd down, Alabama converted just 2 of 13 attempts for a grand total of -2 rushing yards, 22 passing yards, and a pair of interceptions… one of which was a Pick Six.

With that defense and Ezekiel Elliott, I’m tempted to rest my case now and call it a day. But that’s shorting J.T. Barrett, and I can’t do that to one of the best to ever do it in a Buckeye jersey. 

Barrett holds both the Big Ten and Ohio State records for both touchdowns thrown in a career and touchdowns responsible for (147, in case you were curious). He racked up an incredible 12,697 yards as a starter at Ohio State through the air and on the ground.

Let’s dial it in just to the Championship season – where he accounted for 45 total touchdowns in an 11-1 campaign that set up Ohio State’s magical run into the history books. He was everything Urban Meyer wanted in a quarterback; call him “a distributor” or “game manager” if you want, but it takes a special talent to not only rack up the gaudy stats he accumulated but to make the people around you better, too.

“Elite leader that raises the level of those around him, raises the level of toughness, of will to win, of the practice habits, the human spirit," then-Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said of his quarterback after Barrett’s final game. "I know he says he doesn't want to coach, but I'm not done trying to get him to coach because he should do that.”

Did Cardale Jones have a stronger arm? I’ll concede the point. Did I enjoy the heck out of watching Jones truck-stick some poor fool into the middle of next Tuesday on a quarterback run? Yes, yes I did.

Suggesting that Cardale Jones was the one thing that propelled Ohio State to win a national championship not only sells J.T. Barrett short – unfairly – but it also sells short one of the greatest running backs in college football history, and one of the best defenses in Buckeye history.

Counter-Take: No National Title In 2014 National Title If J.T. Barrett Stays Healthy

David Wertheim: Cardale Jones won the state of Ohio’s hearts forever by leading Ohio State on a three-game run at the end of the 2014 season with wins over Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon to capture a national championship.

But, of course, it almost didn’t happen.

J.T. Barrett, after taking over for Braxton Miller and having an incredible statistical season with 45 total touchdowns on a 64.6 percent completion rate as a freshman, broke his ankle early in the fourth quarter against Michigan, bringing in Jones, who at the time was extremely unknown.

It was one of the best things to happen to Ohio State football.

Ignoring Barrett’s obvious limitations that lasted through the 2017 season, we will just focus on 2014 alone. After a loss to Virginia Tech in the second week, Ohio State rattled off 10 straight with Barrett starting and surviving close wins against Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Indiana. 

After Barrett went down in the Michigan game, and Jones entered, it was like a switch was flipped. The Buckeyes scored 59 points and walloped Wisconsin behind Jones going 12-for-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns in his first collegiate start, earning the Buckeyes a trip to the College Football Playoff. It has been widely surmised that Ohio State would not have been selected for the playoff if that game was not a blowout. In the games that Barrett started, the Buckeyes reached 59 points just one time, against a powerhouse Kent State team. 

Jones continued to roll in wins over Alabama and Oregon, trucking over defenders and throwing darts to the tune of 485 yards and three total touchdowns in those two games. While Jones certainly wasn’t “elite,” he did enough to keep Alabama and Oregon off balance and the threat of his arm (with the little film held by both teams) allowed for Ezekiel Elliott to run wild. 

For fun, let’s take a look at Barrett’s stats in some “big games” throughout his career.

  • 2014 vs. Virginia Tech: 9-29, 219 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs
  • 2015 vs. Notre Dame*: 19-31, 211 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
  • 2016 vs. No. 2 Clemson*: 19-33, 127 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs
  • 2017 vs. No. 5 Oklahoma: 19-35, 183 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
  • 2017 @ Michigan: 3-8, 30 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
  • 2017 vs. No. 4 Wisconsin*: 12-26, 211 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
  • Average of those six games: 13.5/27 (50 percent), 163 yards, 0.66 TDs, 1.33 INTs

For those of you who say “hE wOn tHOsE PeNn StaTe GaMEs,” I’d be glad to point out his four-interception Iowa stinker in 2017 that virtually knocked Ohio State out of the playoff conversation. 

Barrett was frequently touted for his “poise” and “leadership,” but all of that means diddly-squat when actually on the field trying to win a football game, as shown by the real quarterbacks Ohio State actually trotted out in 2018 and 2019.

It got so bad that I, then a dumb freshman at Ohio State in Barrett’s last season, was able to predict the plays the Buckeyes would run with decent accuracy. It really wasn’t too hard. A couple of short runs and then a wobbly pass that was probably (50 percent!) incomplete. 

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that actually got him on the field, Jones becoming the starter won Ohio State a national championship. 

There’s a reason they call him “Weenie Arm.”

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