Ohio State’s relatively easy romps over the likes of Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers, coupled with an almost alarming number of upsets among top-ranked teams, have allowed the Buckeyes to inch their way back toward the national championship discussion.
Additionally, the offensive explosion of the most recent four games – a dizzying average of 56 points and 614 total yards per contest – has spawned a smattering of Heisman Trophy support for redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Does Barrett truly merit the consideration? Based upon the fact that he is one of feel-good stories of the first half of the 2014 college football season, perhaps the OSU quarterback at least deserves to be in the conversation. But does he have the requisite jump-off-the-page statistics sought by today’s Heisman voters?
With most viable candidates at the midway point of the regular season, Barrett ranks a lofty No. 3 in the nation in pass efficiency. That is behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, one of the preseason Heisman favorites, as well as true freshman signal-caller Deshaun Watson of Clemson, who will be sidelined a month after Oct. 13 surgery to repair a broken bone in his throwing hand.
Some of Barrett’s allure comes from the fact that each of the last two Heisman winners were redshirt freshmen QBs – Jameis Winston of Florida State last year and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012 – and that the Ohio State quarterback has similar numbers to both players at the same juncture of their award-winning seasons.
Two years ago, Manziel had thrown for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns against only three interceptions in six games. But what set him apart among Heisman voters was his swashbuckling style of running during those six games that produced 676 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
Last year, while his scrambling was done mostly out of necessity (just 137 yards and three scores), it was Winston’s command of the pocket that allowed him to throw for 1,885 yards and 20 touchdowns during Florida State’s first six games.
Compare those stats with Barrett, who has thrown for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns with five interceptions while adding 383 yards and four TDs rushing for Ohio State so far this season.
With respect to quarterback ratings, Barrett also measures up well. At this point in their respective Heisman seasons, Manziel had a QBR of 162.8 while Winston carried a 210.4 rating. Barrett is currently at 182.1.
There is no question Barrett is on a roll since the Virginia Tech debacle. However, Heisman Trophies are not won during the first half of the season against weak opposition. Manziel and Winston won theirs on the strength of superlative second-half performances.
Manziel solidified his candidacy with 345 yards of total offense during an upset of defending national champion Alabama, while Winston used a 325-yard performance during an early November win over then-No. 7 Miami (Fla.) to springboard his candidacy while piloting the Seminoles to the national championship.
If Barrett can continue to put up the kind of numbers he has generated during the first six games, there is no doubt he will garner his fair share of Heisman support although whether or not he will be able to sustain his impressive production is up for debate.
Among Ohio State’s most recent four opponents, only Maryland ranks among the nation’s top 50 in pass efficiency defense, and the Terrapins rank 44th. Rutgers is No. 87, Kent State is No. 111 and Cincinnati ranks 121st out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Three of the Buckeyes’ next four opponents rank among the top 25 in pass efficiency defense – Penn State at No. 22, Michigan State at No. 21 and Minnesota at No. 19. Obviously, if Barrett can pick apart those defenses, his Heisman campaign will take care of itself.
However, as consistent as he has been over the course of the last month, the OSU quarterback is going to have to be even more so during the stretch run.
For example, during his team’s first three possessions against Rutgers, each of which resulted in touchdowns, Barrett connected on all eight of his attempts for 112 yards and two scores, giving him a stratospheric quarterback rating of 300.1.
Unfortunately, his performance took a nosedive from there as he appeared to struggle somewhat with his mechanics. Barrett connected on only 10 of his final 22 attempts for 144 yards and a touchdown, which computes to a QB rating of just 115.4. That won’t get it done against Penn State or Minnesota much less Michigan State.
Still, at this point of the season, Ohio State fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Barrett – someone who hadn’t played a down of college football before this season – has been able to play so well since the recent track record for first-year starting quarterbacks at OSU hasn’t always been such a good one.
Art Schlichter, Greg Frey, Kirk Herbstreit, Bobby Hoying, Austin Moherman, Steve Bellisari, Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller all struggled with varying kinds of growing pains during their initial season as the starter, so what Barrett has been able to do so far is nothing short of remarkable.
Miller Time In 2015?
In addition to the Heisman talk, Barrett’s production these past four games has touched off a controversy of sorts among Ohio State fans. There is a small-but-ever-growing faction that insists Barrett should be the starting quarterback even if Miller rejoins the team in 2015 after sitting out this season following shoulder surgery.
The argument can be made that Barrett has a more accurate arm, but going so far as to proclaiming him the better overall player is absurd.
Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, a trophy the conference doesn’t award by picking names out of a hat. He is a transformational player who brings athleticism to the quarterback position that has seldom been seen – not only at Ohio State but in college football history.
With no disrespect meant toward Barrett, it isn’t much of a leap to believe Miller’s elusiveness could have changed the outcome of the Virginia Tech game, meaning the Buckeyes would still be undefeated and on track toward a berth in the College Football Playoff.
So, to claim the Buckeyes aren’t missing a beat with Miller out of the lineup is ridiculous. The simple fact is the team is missing a huge beat without its senior quarterback.
Despite his obvious talents and the fact he is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Big Ten history, Miller has been unjustifiably criticized since taking over for Joe Bauserman early in the 2011 season. You remember that season, don’t you? Miller, who was basically thrown to the wolves by a disorganized and distracted coaching staff, didn’t immediately live up to the lofty expectations of some fans, and they have never forgiven him.
It is borderline amazing how quickly fans are ready to kick to the curb a player who has been an exemplary example of how to conduct oneself away from the field, one who has always been in good academic standing, one who is on track to graduate in December, and a gutsy player who exacerbated a shoulder injury while trying to help his team win the Orange Bowl. Contrast that to the weekly sideshow surrounding the quarterback at Florida State and tell me which you prefer.
Should Barrett continue to prosper, and should the Buckeyes win out and get to the national championship playoff, then Urban Meyer will have a decision to make if and when Miller decides to return next season.
But if anything happens short of Ohio State running the table and Barrett appearing in New York City in December as a Heisman finalist, Miller should be the starting quarterback in 2015. For what he has done on the field, and the way he has comported himself away from it, he has earned that right.