It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride for J.T. Barrett over his three years in Columbus as Ohio State's starting quarterback. But so far in 2016, it’s all been pointing up, as he’s placed himself right in the thick of the Heisman conversation three weeks into the season.
But going beyond the numbers, what’s made Barrett’s season special so far is the success he’s having while working with an almost entirely new offense around him.
Barrett was one of the few holdovers in an Ohio State player pool left decimated by last year’s NFL draft. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot was a top-five draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys, wideouts Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller went soon after, as well as Joey Bosa and other key pieces on defense. By the time the dust settled after the draft, Barrett was one of only six returning starters.
Now, yes, there was hardly a dropoff in expectations surrounding Ohio State, which was still ranked No. 6 to open the season. But even with its talented incoming class, replacing that much talent is always a challenge.
But Barrett has embraced his leadership role as a now-two-time team captain, and his statistics have helped. Through only three games in 2016, he’s already accounted for 13 touchdowns, which is on pace to surpass his record-breaking 45 scores in 2014.
Sure, it’s early in the season and there’s a wealth of tougher competition to come, but it’s worth noting.
Barrett and the Buckeyes cruised by its first two games against Bowling Green and Tulsa, allowing only 13 points combined on defense while posting 77 and 48 points, respectively.
While Barrett’s first pass attempt of the season was picked off and returned for a touchdown the other way, he quickly rebounded and posted a 349-yard, seven-touchdown performance against the Falcons in Week 1. The numbers weren’t as gaudy against the Golden Hurricanes, but he showed his versatility with two touchdowns on the ground in another blowout.
Then came the first real test.
In Week 3, the Buckeyes headed to Norman, Oklahoma, for a road game against Oklahoma, a team picked No. 3 in the preseason and desperate for a signature win following its loss to then-No. 15 Houston in Week 1.
All Barrett did was connect with Noah Brown for four touchdowns while going 14-of-20 passing for 152 yards and rushing for 74 more. The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead that the Sooners would never recover from, setting up Ohio State with its new No. 2 ranking this week.
Barrett’s traditional numbers don’t necessarily stack up with many other top quarterbacks in the more pass-happy systems across the nation. He’s only 53rd in passing yards and Ohio State is only 97th in passing attempts. And for being considered a dual-threat at quarterback, Barrett only has the 16th best rushing yards per game mark among FBS quarterbacks.
Ohio State doesn’t rely on Barrett to drop back 50 times a game or create dazzling 50-yard runs downfield. He simply has a knack for finding the end zone, will hardly make mistakes and performs in big games.
That makes him the perfect candidate to lead this young Buckeyes roster with legitimate Playoff goals in mind.
Barrett will have a grand opportunity to further pad his stats next week, as Ohio State kicks off its Big Ten schedule against a Rutgers team that finished 1-7 in conference play last year. One of those losses came against the Buckeyes when Barrett carved up the Scarlet Knights defense for five touchdowns on 223 yards through the air and another 101 on the ground en route to a 49-7 score.
Ultimately, however, Barrett’s chances at reaching the stage come December will be decided in the last three weeks of the year. Ohio State ends its regular season with a trip to Michigan State and a home matchup against top rival Michigan. With the three fighting for the division’s spot in the following week’s Big Ten Championship Game, Barrett’s play will be crucial.
If the Buckeyes can avenge last year’s disappointment of falling short at a chance for the conference title and follow that up with a good showing in the championship game, Barrett will undoubtedly remain a favorite to take home the nation’s most coveted hardware.
Honorable mention: Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech quarterback
Mahomes is the man in charge of the Red Raiders’ high-scoring offense and leads the nation with 1,493 yards (497.7 per game) and 14 touchdowns through three games.
The junior, and three-year starter, is most recently coming off a five-touchdown performance in a win against Louisiana Tech in which he completed 26 of 36 pass attempts. He’s led Texas Tech to a 2-1 start and will next face a Kansas team that allowed 46 points per game last season, so expect more fireworks from Mahomes and the Red Raiders offense this Saturday.
Mahomes won’t be in too many talks for the Heisman as the season goes on since Texas Tech isn’t a national title contender and Mahomes is a benefactor of the program’s pass-happy play calling, but he’s having a remarkable season nonetheless.