COLUMBUS — Social media and sports talk radio dripped with vitriol toward J.T. Barrett after Ohio State was embarrassed by Clemson in the College Football Playoff. The veteran quarterback had heard it all before. He shouldered the blame, shut out the noise and quickly announced his intention to return and lead the Buckeyes offense for a fourth season.
Barrett is an oddity in modern college football, where the best players rarely stick around so long. In his fifth year on campus — he redshirted in 2013 — Barrett will be the first three-time captain in Ohio State history.
He’s been around long enough to break a slew of school records and help lead the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014. He carried last season’s team to the playoff, winning many of the games with his legs. He’s 26-4 as Ohio State’s starting QB.
But fans have short memories. Maybe Joe Burrow deserves a shot. He was really good in the spring game last year, remember? Or Tate Martell, the Las Vegas guy. He’s so good he’s already starred in a documentary about himself.
“We live in an era when everybody wants something new and something fresh,” Barrett said at the beginning of spring practice this month. “When the new iPhone 7 comes out, everybody wants to get that because it’s the new and latest thing. I’m not the new, latest thing.”
Coming back for his last year of eligibility was pretty much a no-brainer for the 22-year-old Texan.
He led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record in 2014, only to break an ankle in the final regular season game against Michigan. He leaned on a scooter on the sidelines and watched backup Cardale Jones win the next three games and lift the national championship trophy.
Barrett couldn’t match his 2014 numbers the past two seasons, and he took the slings and arrows last year when a leaky offensive line and under-performing receivers caused breakdowns in the passing game. Those weaknesses were glaring in the playoff, when Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 with 20 million people watching on TV.
Mostly unloved by NFL scouts, declaring for the draft would have been a risky proposition. And the Clemson game left a bad taste. That’s not the way he wanted to end his college career.
“It was really hard to leave Ohio State when that was the worst game I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
Coach Urban Meyer defended Barrett through last season’s troubles. But he acknowledges the offense — and the quarterback play — must improve. Barrett likely will get plenty of leeway from his coach, but maybe not blind loyalty.
“Quarterbacks get far too much credit (when) everybody is playing well around them,” Meyer said. “And then they get a lot of the blame. … It comes with the job description. There’s a lot of things he has to work on. Most importantly, just get better on offense.”
To that end, Meyer parted ways after the season with co-offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck, and brought in former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson to run the offense, and new quarterbacks coach Ryan Day.
Wilson has admired Barrett from afar.
“I’ve just always loved his command presence,” Wilson said. “He’s got some great leadership skills.”
Barrett graduated in December and aside from a couple of online courses he expects to have zero distractions. Playing football for Ohio State will be his job. And he’ll try to prove to his detractors that his best days as a Buckeye are still ahead.
“But also understand that bad things are going to happen, and I feel I’m the best person for the job of the (quarterbacks) we have at Ohio State,” Barrett said.
NOTES: Ohio State resumed spring practice on Tuesday, March 21 after taking off a week for spring break….Meyer’s good friends Lou Holtz and Phil Knight will be the guest coaches for the spring game on April 15. Holtz hired Meyer at Notre Dame in 1996 as receivers coach. Knight is the Nike founder and the company’s chairman emeritus.