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J.T. Barrett's Emergence Keeps Ohio State's Playoff Hopes Alive

J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett

A healthy Braxton Miller on the field was supposed to make the 2014 season one that was all about making the first College Football Playoff for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those hopes are effectively toned down before the season ever got started with news of Miller needing to undergo shoulder surgery that would sideline him for the entire season. Enter freshman J.T. Barrett, a dual-threat quarterback from the state of Texas who enrolled early at Ohio State in 2013. As it turns out, that early enrollment may be what saves Ohio State’s seemingly derailed playoff train.

Barrett is a redshirt freshman that had a full year and a half to study Urban Meyer’s offense before being asked to take over the offense this season. This is hardly a true freshman stepping right into the spotlight, although early on it was looking as though Barrett was a tad star-struck under the bright lights. Barrett’s first career home game came against Virginia Tech in primetime. It was a significant spotlight and it came with a dose of bad timing. Virginia Tech was the perfect team to rattle a young quarterback starting his second game in a big match-up, and the Hokies managed to take advantage of a Miller-less Buckeye squad. Barrett was held to just nine completions out of 29 attempts and the Hokies picked off three passes from the redshirt freshman quarterback. The early season loss was forecasted as an elimination game for Ohio State in the playoff race, but it should have been seen as nothing more than a valuable learning experience for Barrett and the rest of the Buckeyes.

Since that 35-21 setback to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 224-69. Granted, those wins have come against Kent State (1-6), a struggling Cincinnati (3-3) and Big Ten newcomers Maryland (5-2) and Rutgers (5-2). In that span, Barrett has had three games with a completion percentage over 72.2 and he has been intercepted just once. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and added another three on the ground.

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Barrett was a four-star recruit out of high school for a reason, and he is showing why right now. By now it is clear the biggest test the rest of the regular season for Ohio State will be a road trip to Michigan State on November 8. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game rematch should ultimately determine the favorite in the Big Ten and keep potential playoff hopes alive for the winner. Ohio State, and Barrett, may be playing the best football in the Big Ten right now, but Michigan State is still the team to beat. Barrett has been piling up huge numbers against teams without a defense on par with what Michigan State can offer. The Spartans have not been the tightest on defense in recent weeks, and their late-game struggles have been seen at times this season, but it should be expected Michigan State will tighten up at home against Ohio State in a few weeks.

For now, Barrett and Ohio State have to keep plugging away. That continues this week on the road at Penn State and next week at home against Illinois. Odds are favorable Ohio State will roll into East Lansing with a 7-1 record. Barrett is a huge reason why.

- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)