COLUMBUS—The stadium was mostly empty at this point. Ohio State’s showdown with Illinois ceased being competitive around the ten minute mark, and a windy downpour drove most of the fans to warmer, drier climates.
But those who were smart enough to bring ponchos were rewarded, as the seconds ticked down on Ohio State’s 52-14 win. J.T. Barrett, with his teammates, triumphantly hoisted one of the more ridiculous of the Big Ten rivalry trophies, and then plunged towards the crowd for high fives and hugs.
One of the greatest quarterbacks in Ohio State, heck, Big Ten history, then headed off the field, never to play in his home stadium again.
Barrett’s final legacy still has room for a few more chapters. After all, there’s another game against Michigan, another opportunity for a Big Ten title, and perhaps, despite those two losses, a trip to the College Football Playoff.
But there’s enough there to still tell a good story, no matter what happens the rest of this season.
During the game, Barrett threw his 100th, and then 101st, touchdown pass. He’s the proud holder of 35 different Ohio State and Big Ten records. He cracked the top five in Heisman voting as a freshman, and could crack at least the top ten this season. He’s won every meaningful award that the Big Ten gives. A decade from now, when somebody logs on to Sports-Reference.com, they’re going to see eye-popping numbers, a slew of records, and likely conclude that Barrett is one of the most celebrated players in Ohio State history. And hey, maybe he will be.
But we also can’t forget that Barrett is one of the only college football players to approach such rarified feats while also facing skepticism from his fanbase, from the national press, even to the point where credible people, not just shrieking message board posters, could call for his benching. You can even find some of those words on this website.
After all, Barrett had to battle to even secure his starting job the year after he laid the groundwork for a national title run. His flaws, perhaps due to his health, or coaching, or the composition of the roster around him, and yes, even his own execution, were often laid out front and center to the sporting world in a different way from a lot of other players.
Being a 5th year senior college QB is a bit of a weird position. You need to be good enough to continue to hold on to a starting job and perform at a high level, but you either need to have health concerns, or have just enough flaws where bolting early for the NFL wouldn’t make sense.
If one was say, a Barrett skeptic — a group that does still exist on the internet — you could point to the struggles with throwing deep passes or the occasional departures from perfect velocity. You could point out that Barrett’s gaudy rushing numbers were more a product of repeated carries, perhaps occasionally to the detriment of the rest of the offense, rather than the game-breaking athleticism of say, a Braxton Miller or a Terrelle Pryor. You could say that the success of Ohio State’s offense was more a reflection of the playmakers around him, rather than the QB himself.
And to be totally frank with you, I don’t think all of those arguments are wrong. And if that is how you want to remember Barrett, that’s your choice.
A more pro-Barrett perspective would be to recognize his excellent ability to make the right read from read option plays, or his awareness and body control allowing him to be a fearsome short yardage runner. You could remember his decisionmaking and distributing ability at his best, limiting turnovers and making the efficient decision, time and time again. And, that while there wasn’t the eye-popping WHOA moments of maybe other QBs, he is above average in nearly every on-field component of being QB. If he was a basketball player, maybe he’d be a white shooting guard at Duke that played lockdown defense that everybody hated. That is a complement.
You could remember him for his leadership, a trait that’s hard to really evaluate as an outsider. But we do have clues. After all, he’s the first three-time Ohio State captain ever. Urban Meyer and his teammates repeatedly gush over him.
And Ohio State wins under him. This recent run is one of the best in Ohio State history, with a national title, another playoff bid, a demolishing of a good Notre Dame squad in a big bowl game, and a mastery of the Big Ten. As of right this second, they have a chance to win the conference and perhaps make another playoff.
I can’t speak for anybody else. I can’t sit here and tell you how to fan. But for me, I can say that I’m happy that I got a chance to see him play. I’ll remember all the wins, the explosive offenses — which I’ll never take for granted after the Tressel era. I’ll remember how people whose opinions about football I respect praised him constantly. And yeah, I’ll remember stuff like this too, which was exciting and goofy and everything all at once.
There will be other good quarterbacks at Ohio State. There will be many other highly recruited ones, ones with physical gifts that may exceed Barrett’s. There may be players that will produce more SportsCenter highlights. There might even be players that win almost as much.
But J.T. Barrett’s don’t walk through the door very often. I can’t speak for anybody else, but once the years pass, and the memories of the less-than-perfect deep balls fade, I’ll remember the accomplishments, which are legion. And I’ll remember standing on the sideline, freezing my ass off because I didn’t bring a proper raincoat, while Barrett, snug in his Ohio State rain jacket, shook his head and judged me for my poor sartorial choices.
I’ll remember him as one of the best.
What about you?