COLUMBUS, Ohio >> J.T. Barrett helped bring Ohio State a national championship but has heard hysterical fans demanding he be benched. He has broken nearly every school passing and scoring record but isn’t considered a top NFL prospect.
The quarterback who plays his final regular-season game on Saturday against Michigan is more driven than naturally talented, more analytical than emotional, more pragmatic than go-for-broke. He has struggled with accuracy and his arm strength is mediocre.
But he’s undeniably a winner.
He’s 35-6 as a starter at Ohio State and holds 35 school and Big Ten records. If he beats the Wolverines again, which has to happen for the No. 8 Buckeyes to have any shot at getting back to the playoffs, he will tie Art Schlichter for most quarterback wins in school history.
Barrett passed four-year starter Schlichter this season in career passing yards, and also holds school records for passing yards per game, completions, completion percentage, touchdown passes, touchdowns responsible for, and total offense. He’s second only to Heisman winner Troy Smith in career passing efficiency (157.1 to 153.7).
But it’s not all about the numbers.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” Ohio State senior tackle Jamarco Jones said. “He’s also one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. He just wants to win, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to win, and that’s something that everybody feeds off of.”
His coach, Urban Meyer, says part of that makes Barrett exceptional is a desire to win that exceeds physical limitations or ego.
I love J.T.,” Meyer said. “J.T. is a member of the Meyer family and the Buckeye family for the rest of his life.”
Yet Ohio State fans haven’t appreciated him as much at times.
Maybe because he was sitting out with a broken ankle when the Buckeyes won the national championship in 2014. Or maybe because he hasn’t managed to be quite as good as that first year. Or maybe because he’s been there so long. Barrett is a four-year starter in a sport where the brightest stars rarely stick around.
He acknowledged as much during spring practice this year, saying he understood the fascination over newcomer Tate Martell, a flashy freshman quarterback popular on social media.
“We live in an era,” Barrett said, “when everybody wants something new and something fresh.”
Barrett, from Wichita Falls, Texas, was barely on Meyer’s radar coming out of high school. Nobody from Ohio State had even seen him play in person before he committed.
After redshirting a year, Barrett began 2014 camp as the backup to Braxton Miller, who had been the Big Ten Player of the Year. But a shoulder injury to Miller thrust Barrett into the starting role and stardom. He went 11-1 as the starting quarterback, compiling a school-record 3,772 total yards before getting hurt.
Barrett broke his right ankle in the fourth quarter of the final regular season game against Michigan. He was on the sideline in a cast as his rifle-armed backup, Cardale Jones, stepped in for three games and led Ohio State to a title.
Jones won the starting job before the 2015 season but Barrett eventually was reinstalled, missing a game on suspension after being arrested for drunken driving. Barrett was better in 2016, but passing problems swallowed the Buckeyes in the playoffs against Clemson. Fans started chattering about giving one of the backups a chance to QB in 2017.
That talk continued when the Buckeyes lost to Oklahoma, then were surprisingly blown out at Iowa Nov. 4. Barrett was terrible in both games.
Now the door to the playoffs has been cracked open a bit again, and Meyer will count on Barrett to beat Michigan and then take down No. 5 Wisconsin next week in the Big Ten Championship. If those things happen, there is a slight chance the Buckeyes could end up back in the playoffs.
“Everybody’s path is a little different,” Barrett said. “There are things along the way I didn’t expect, (but) God knew what was happening. And I think those things positive or negative, I was able to grow from them. And I think at the end of the day, I’m a better person for things I went through.”
Barrett hesitates to talk about his legacy. Maybe there will be time to think about that when it’s all over. But the story is still being written.
“I think I’ve done some good things here,” he said. “Who knows?”