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Tate Martell is the wild card in Ohio State’s quarterback competition

Replacing J.T. Barrett is a tall order. Martell thinks he has what it takes to do it.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m going to attack it as though I’m the guy and I’m the starter.”

-Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, via Ryan Ginn, Land of 10

With a win over USC in the Cotton Bowl, the J.T. Barrett era at Ohio State is officially closed. It seems like he has been with the program forever, having been one of the few Ohio State quarterbacks to start the majority of four seasons, which makes replacing him all the more daunting. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins would seem to be the heir apparent. Haskins has seen time in several games this season, but no performance was more pivotal than his minutes in the Buckeyes’ regular season finale versus Michigan. After Barrett left the game due to injury, Haskins completed Ohio State’s comeback to give the Buckeyes their sixth-straight win over the Wolverines.

While redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow was initially regarded as the likely backup for Barrett, a broken hand kept him sidelined during the blowout wins which gave Haskins snaps early in the season. Haskins finished the season with 565 passing yards, four touchdowns and a pick. He played in eight games, mainly on cleanup duty until called into action against Michigan. Now, heading into the offseason, Haskins is poised to fill Barrett’s very large shoes.

However, while Haskins has seen more snaps this year than any other backup, those other backups are very much in the hunt for Barrett’s vacated position. Burrow has already stated that he is “leaning toward staying” in Columbus next season, but freshman Tate Martell, who was redshirted this past season, could be the one to shake things up heading into 2018. Like Burrow and Haskins, Martell came to Ohio State as a four-star recruit. He spent the majority of the season as the scout team quarterback and has earned significant praise from teammates, including Sam Hubbard, in this role. With such a high-profile player as Barrett to replace, the trio of backups will need to prove their impact early if they have hope of earning the starting role.

“Every quarterback on the Buckeyes’ roster, however, is unproven, making it far from a sure thing that any of them will be an upgrade and a very real possibility that any of them could be a downgrade.”

-Dan Hope, Eleven Warriors

As Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell prepare for an open quarterback competition in the spring, questions remain as to what any of these players could bring to the offense as a whole. Each brings something unique to the table, especially compared to J.T. Barrett’s skill set. Entering 2017, with Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day running the offense, fans expected Ohio State to be able to stretch the field more than they had in previous seasons. Barrett, despite holding every major passing record at Ohio State, was often critiqued for his perceived issues with the vertical passing game--something that was not his natural strength. Now, with three new contenders for the quarterback spot, Wilson and Day have the opportunity to select a player who brings a new dynamic to an offense that was up and down throughout the course of the season.

While there is certainly an upside--a passer who can bring a vertical threat is definitely something Ohio State fans have yearned for--the fact remains that Barrett brought tremendous rushing ability and extraordinary game management to the field for four years as a starter. There is no guarantee that any of the replacements could match that level of talent. All have potential, but it will require a lot of work adjusting the offense as a whole to bring out those individual skill sets. As fans saw early on this year against Indiana and Oklahoma, that could mean more growing pains early in the 2018 season.

Still, a better, more complete offense is possible. Cardale Jones showed what that offense could look like in the Buckeyes’ postseason run in 2014. The offense managed to both survive without Barrett and thrive under a different quarterback. However, as the start of 2015 showed, making that offense consistent is a different, and far more challenging, task.

“I don’t think this is the time to start calling the Big Ten a mid-major. I just think it’s one of those fluke things. Just as on any given year, you can have teams surprise you in a positive direction. Basically, the Big Ten has surprised in the wrong direction.”

-ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, via Roman Stubbs, the Washington Post

Ohio State basketball has been looking up this season under first year head coach Chris Holtmann. So far, the Buckeyes have not lost to anyone they are not supposed to. Their offensive production has been high, and Keita Bates-Diop has been outstanding. Still, they have a long way to go to get back to greatness.

Unfortunately, so does the rest of the Big Ten. The conference was an abysmal 3-13 versus ranked opponents in non-conference play. Beyond tough competition, a number of teams have already endured some ugly losses, such as Purdue losing to Western Kentucky and Indiana’s blowout loss against Indiana State. That’s not including Iowa falling to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State back-to-back. As a whole, the conference went an embarassing 3-11 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this season.

With such poor performance, expectations are not high for the Big Ten when it comes to early NCAA Tournament bracket predictions. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has just four teams--No. 1 Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Minnesota--making the field. By comparison, last year, which was also a down year for the conference, saw seven Big Ten teams making the tournament. However, three of those teams went on to the Sweet 16.

Both Michigan State and Purdue are in the top-10 kenpom rankings. Maryland is next at No. 30, then Michigan at No. 33. Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State are the only other teams in the top-50.

Still, there is a lot of basketball left to be played, and teams who get hot at the end of the season can be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. The good news for Ohio State? After missing out on the big dancet for the past two seasons, Lunardi has the Buckeyes as a bubble team. Okay, not great news, but better than missing the NIT.