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How J.T. Barrett can get his signature Ohio State moment and go down as one of the greatest QBs in Buckeye history

And he doesn’t necessarily need a national title or Heisman to do it.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

I’m throwing down a sports hot take that will rustle some jimmies: J.T. Barrett is on the cusp of being one of the greatest (if not the greatest) quarterbacks to ever suit up in the Scarlet and Gray. While you don’t have to scour the Internet long to see dissenting opinions, ranging from Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow being endorsed as the new signal caller in Columbus to freshman phenom Tate Martell getting the chance at QB1, Barrett, whether you like it or not, has thrived (and for the most part, maintained his starting QB role) in the greatest era of Ohio State QBs.

In the last five seasons, Urban Meyer has had Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton, Barrett and Cardale Jones take turns at controlling the Buckeye offense. In the last five seasons, the Buckeyes have gone 61-6. Each QB pulled off dramatic wins, however, which of those moments (if any) have stood the test of time and can be deemed a “signature moment.”

If there were signature moments from that quartet of quarterbacks, then they rest squarely on the arm of the man that went by the nickname of ‘12 gauge’. Cardale Jones quarterbacked the Buckeyes past three exquisite opponents, which were basically gobbled up like an appetizer, entree and dessert.

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State
For some, it takes years to make a great moment in team history. For Jones, it took three games—and he created three magical moments.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Jones’ performance against the Wisconsin Badgers’ defense in the 2015 Big Ten Conference Championship Game left Buckeye nation wanting more in the next contest—the Sugar Bowl Semifinal against Alabama. Again, Jones did his part in helping the Buckeyes savor a big game victory. The win for OSU was the food equivalent of getting a filet mignon cooked exactly the way you like it. And for the last dish, Jones flambéed the Oregon Ducks defense to win a national title.

See, to reminisce the tale of Cardale Jones was easy; that’s how you know a signature moment was created. Even though Braxton made big plays and spin moves, and Guiton’s performance against Purdue in 2012 was cool as the other side of the pillow, those moments will gradually fade into Buckeye history—and will ultimately, and unfortunately, work their way to the land of forgotten memories.

But that’s okay, though. The land of forgotten memories also hold moments like Michigan winning a natty; the moments happened so long ago, that you can’t remember if they actually happened, or if you dreamt them

This brings us back to how Barrett can get his signature moment as a Buckeye. Right now, he has a bunch of highlight reel worthy plays, but nothing that really jumps out as ‘THE moment.” If you commissioned someone to write a screenplay on Barrett with the whole movie revolving around his signature moment at OSU, you would find it to be quite difficult. But here’s the thing about Barrett: he doesn’t necessarily need his big moment to be a national title win.

Winning the natty would be the obvious answer, but his records in the Big Ten and against the team up north set the building blocks for his signature moment to happen in his fourth year under center.

At sometime in the early part of the 2017 regular season, Barrett is going to get his six touchdowns to tie Drew Brees’ Big Ten record of 106 TDs. Already taking up substantial amounts of real estate in the Buckeye record books, Barrett can climb into the top spot all-time in passing yards at OSU with 1,300 yards this upcoming season.

Craig Krenzel, who is No. 11 on the all-time OSU passing list, had signature moments against Purdue and Miami in 2002/2003. Granted, the ‘Holy Buckeye’ fourth-down play against the Boilermakers kept the Bucks title hopes alive, however, the moment was only amplified when Krenzel completed his second signature moment by quarterbacking the Buckeyes to a win against the unstoppable Miami Hurricanes.

You could also make a strong case that Krenzel’s other signature moment against the ‘Canes was throwing the ball at exactly the right spot where Chris Gamble was gonna be held up for pass interference/defensive holding, but I digress.

The No. 7 man on the OSU passing list is Troy Smith. Smith had three wins against Michigan, including the famed No. 1 v. No. 2 matchup in 2006, and collected a Heisman Trophy for his efforts in the 2006 campaign. Regardless of what happened after winning the Heisman, Smith was firmly planted forever in the lore of Buckeye football. Winning trophies like the Heisman will do that. However, the Heisman did absolutely no good in Smith’s final game for the Buckeyes, as he was picked apart by the Florida Gators in a 41-14 defeat in the BCS National Championship Game.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson
Barrett has his name all over the OSU record books. However, he hasn’t had that one breakout moment in Scarlet and Gray.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In the case of Barrett, winning a Heisman or a title will be the exclamation point to a fantastic career at Ohio State. But what if I said—or technically, wrote out—that Barrett can still be on the same level as Jones, Krenzel and Smith in regards to being a great (or greatest) QB since the start of the new millennia.

Barrett has the chance to down the Wolverines four times. That would be one way he states his claim as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for the Buckeyes. Since 1960, no Buckeye QB has been able to go 4-for-4 against the team up north. Even guys like Krenzel and Miller lost to Michigan once.

If Barrett can march the troops into Ann Arbor and pull out another exciting victory, his signature moment (and legacy) will start with the dominance against Michigan. Anything after that (i.e. winning a Heisman or a national championship) will be the cherry on top of an illustrious career in Columbus.

Quantitatively, Barrett’s numbers at Ohio State are something that is rarely seen. Usually, the Buckeye offense utilizes the rushing game more than the passing game, and the QB’s arm isn’t the main show. That’s part of the reason why Ohio State has struggled to put a quarterback prospect in the NFL. Entering the 2017 campaign, Barrett is making serious noise in taking over the top spot in just about every possible statistical category.

On the qualitative side, Barrett’s lasting impression at OSU is a little murkier. He’s been able to chalk up the wins, but in big games, the chalk stops. Two seasons ago, Barrett QB’d the Buckeyes to a 17-14 loss against Michigan State—ultimately ending the Buckeyes’ chance to defend the title in the College Football playoff. Last season, the Buckeyes melted on the road against Penn State, but managed to squeak their way into the playoff against Clemson. (And as we all know, we don’t talk about that Fiesta Bowl against Clemson.)

Craig Krenzel scrambles with the ball
Quantitatively, Krenzel had okay numbers at Ohio State. On the qualitative side, he was in the center of two big moments in Ohio State history.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

How much accountability Barrett takes for the worst of times is debatable. Coaching and game strategy in tight games seems to be the bugaboo to OSU’s national championship hopes. Different offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches doesn’t make the job any easier. Being in the quarterback’s room at OSU is beginning to feel like being a student in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class in the Harry Potter world: you have no idea who your teacher is going to be the next year.

The 2015 national title won by the Buckeyes couldn’t be achieved if it weren’t for J.T. Barrett stepping up when Braxton Miller got hurt. The story of Cardale Jones couldn’t have happened if Barrett didn’t play out of his mind for 12 games, enabling 12 gauge to do the same in the three subsequent postseason games. Being quarterback in the golden age of Buckeye football has its peaks and valleys. In the valley of criticism, the main echo is that Barrett can’t make the accurate throws like he used to. In that same valley, the crushing expectations also compound the problem: either beat Michigan and get a title, or it’s mission failure.

So, through all of this debate, comparison to other Buckeye QBs and trying to find some sort of equation to determine whether or not Barrett ranks among the best ever to take the snaps under center inside Ohio Stadium, here’s the verdict: Barrett has the advantage to take different paths to be considered one of the Buckeyes’ best.

Each one of those paths feature a signature moment, and he needs just one:

  1. Beat Michigan, again (and go 4-for-4 against them in his whole career)
  2. Win a Heisman Trophy
  3. Win a national championship as the starting QB

If Barrett doesn’t reach any of these moments, he’s still one of the best quarterbacks OSU has ever had. But, if he hits just one of these benchmarks, he is at the table with an elite class and is considered one of the great QBs. If he hits two or three of these marks, then I’m willing to throw down another take: J.T. Barrett is the greatest quarterback ever in Ohio State history.

Beating Michigan. A tradition that never gets old.

Posted by Land-Grant Holy Land - For Ohio State fans on Sunday, May 28, 2017