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Why J.T. Barrett should start for Ohio State in 2015

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The architect of last year's regular season run should get the keys to the offense in 2015.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

J.T. Barrett wasn't under center for Ohio State when the Buckeyes were crowned national champs. He wasn't calling the shots a week and a half earlier, when his team took down the fearsome Alabama Crimson Tide to improbably advance to the title game. Nor did he start at quarterback for the performance that got Ohio State into the first annual College Football Playoff, a shutout of powerhouse Wisconsin. So why on earth should he start over the man who racked up those three monumental wins?

Let's backtrack for a moment. It's easy to forget, in the shadow of those colossal Cardale Jones games, just how good J.T. Barrett was last year before breaking his ankle against Michigan. Jones brought home the 'ship, but playing in that game would have been a pipe dream without Barrett at the helm all year.

By the numbers

J.T. Barrett finished in the top 10 nationally in passing touchdowns, total yards per play, and total touchdowns. His 2014 stat line:

  • Passing: 203/314 (64.6%), 2834 yards, 9.8 adjusted yards per attempt, 34 TD, 10 INT, 169.8 rating
  • Rushing: 978 yards, 171 attempts (5.5 YPC), 11 TD

Those numbers made him far and away the best quarterback in the Big Ten in 2014, and one of the best in the country. He ran roughshod over his conference, coming home with the following B1G accolades:

  • Passing TDs: 1st (34)
  • Total touchdowns: 1st (45)
  • Total yards per play: 2nd (7.8)
  • Passing yards: 4th (2834)
  • Rushing yards: 10th (938)
Were it not for Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Barrett would have been considered far and away the best player in the Big Ten in 2014. Gordon gets credit for carrying a much less talented offense almost single-handedly, but falling short to a Heisman finalist is hardly a knock on Barrett. It's pretty wild that we're even talking about benching the guy who dismantled his conference from start to finish, but such is the embarrassment of riches in the Ohio State QB stable.

The moment

It's a damn shame that Barrett didn't get a chance to show off his stuff against the likes of Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon, because one of his best performances in 2014 was against the toughest competition he faced. His real coming out party was against a favored Michigan State team, a few short weeks before he went down against Michigan.

The Buckeyes marched into a hostile East Lansing environment as underdogs, with serious revenge-game potential in play after the heartbreaking loss to Sparty in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. If Joe Thomas Barrett was nervous, it didn't show. It was the biggest test of his career, and he rose to the occasion like a champ. Barrett threw for 300 yards, including a 79-yard catch-and-run score by Michael Thomas and a 44-yard touchdown strike to Devin Smith.

He also showed some serious flash on the ground, running for 86 yards and two TDs against a nasty Michigan State defense. Ohio State walked out as 49-37 victors, with the Big Ten East crown all but assured. Given that he played so lights-out against a top-10 team, is it any wonder that he so mercilessly shellacked the likes of Maryland, Kent State, Cincinnati, and Indiana?

Barrett over Jones

Look, I understand that having Cardale Jones at the helm of the Ohio State offense gives the Buckeyes options that they don't necessarily get with Barrett. But I think the confluence of circumstances at the end of last season was such that Jones was set up to succeed. That's not to take away from what Jones did -- quite the opposite, in fact, as Jones' skills drove the offensive game plan down the stretch -- but Jones' biggest advantage over Barrett is his arm. That cannon was vital to Ohio State's success down the stretch, but that's only half the equation. The Buckeyes also had Devin Smith, a top-3 deep threat in college football in 2014, to go up and get those balls on the other end. I think we tend to view Jones' throws through rose-colored glasses given the mythos built around King Cardale, but the truth is that some of them were just not great decisions. Devin Smith scored three touchdowns against Wisconsin, all of which came from 39 or more yards out. What gets glossed over is that two of the three were about 80% Smith and 20% Jones, with Smith making highlight-reel plays on semi-underthrown passes into smothering coverage. They were nervy plays, and on Jones' end, they were (shhhh!) not great.

Jones made a number of impressive throws in those games -- the Buckeyes wouldn't have come close to a championship if he hadn't -- but his decision-making with the football left something to be desired at times, something we couldn't often say about Barrett after the Virginia Tech game. That's not to say that Jones can't or won't improve in that department, but at this moment in time, Barrett makes the better reads.

This is coming from a guy who wrote more than once during Ohio State's playoff run that I would "follow Cardale Jones to the gates of Hell," if that makes it any clearer just how much I believe in J.T. Barrett. He might not have Jones' arm, but even with Jones' arm, there's no guarantee that one of the Buckeye receivers will develop into the kind of threat that was Devin Smith. Pure arm strength is devalued without a legitimate deep option at WR, and I believe the Buckeyes would be better off with the surgical mid-range throws of Barrett.

Barrett over Miller

The opposite holds true for Braxton Miller. Miller is the most dangerous runner of the three quarterbacks, full stop. He has, at times, looked more like a video game character than a human being on the football field, making absurdly athletic plays that show off his incredible skill set. Barrett is a good runner, certainly a smart runner, but he can't touch Miller when it comes to making defenders look stupid in open space.

The thing is, he doesn't necessarily have to. Ezekiel Elliott is the backfield mate of whoever lines up at QB for Ohio State, and you may have heard that he's pretty good. I would argue that the Ohio State offense doesn't need two explosive, dynamic runners if that pairing comes with a decline in passing efficiency and ball security. As a redshirt freshman last season, J.T. Barrett made throws that even a healthy Braxton Miller hasn't demonstrated consistently. That's not to say that Barrett is an NFL-ready passer -- he's been known to throw a duck or two, and receivers often need to slow up to catch his deep balls -- but he's also young, and those are very fixable problems.

Let's not forget (like that's possible) that Miller is coming off two major injuries, the second one a non-contact tear that took him out of commission for an entire season. Granted, Barrett is also coming off of a season-ending injury, but it's not one that has shown to be a chronic issue (like Miller's shoulder), nor does it affect his throwing motion in the way that, say, a torn labrum might.

Braxton Miller has done fantastic things at Ohio State. As a fan, I'm incredibly appreciative of what he's brought to the program. As a writer, I'm grateful for the sheer magnitude of adjectives I get to insert in any sentence I type up about his game. But I think we've seen Braxton Miller's ceiling as Ohio State's starting quarterback. By the time the season gets underway, we'll be almost two years removed from Miller's highlight reel 2013 campaign, which is an eon in college football years. I trust that Urban Meyer will find ways to get Miller involved in the offense regardless of who starts, because you don't keep an athlete of his caliber on the bench, but I'd rather it not be as the primary signal-caller for Ohio State.