DALLAS — This is really it for J.T. Barrett, so let’s make a deal right now.
Instead of one more in an endless string of columns debating the Ohio State senior’s legacy before another big game, I promise not to frame just one outing as context for his entire career.
In exchange, how about a one-night ban on any clamoring for Dwayne Haskins or Tate Martell and handwringing over yanking Barrett if there’s any spot of trouble on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl?
Barrett’s career will stand the test of time no matter what happens against Southern Cal at AT&T Stadium. The record books can vouch for that, for starters, and even one more victory over a conference champion shouldn’t change anything for better or worse.
So why not take an evening to appreciate one of the most prolific players the Big Ten has ever seen? How about just a few hours to revel in the memories provided by the only three-time captain the Buckeyes ever have had? If it’s just one last ride for the Texan down in Big D, how about enjoying the sunset of a truly remarkable career instead of wondering if the day might have been brighter with somebody else?
I know the Barrett debates will never truly disappear. And hell, I’ve stoked more than a few of them over the last four years. But I think Barrett has more than earned a night off from the microscope he’s been living under, even if he obviously would never ask for it — particularly in a game he wants to win and is treating like any other.
“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it being my last game, which, I’m definitely fully aware,” he said. “I don’t know. I just haven’t really put a lot of thought on it. I’m just focusing on each day as it comes, just trying to put my best foot forward as far as practice and then spending time with my brothers at the Cotton Bowl, the seniors with it being our last game and things like that.
“I haven’t really looked too far ahead and tried to think ahead about it being the last game or anything like that. Enjoying it and being thankful for each day.”
The Buckeyes have been counting their blessings with Barrett since the day he walked on campus, and there’s really not enough time and hardly enough room here to recount everything he’s accomplished since then.
There were some low points, obviously. The injury at the end of his freshman season that robbed him of a shot to lead the postseason run to a national title. The quarterback controversy with Cardale Jones, the shutout loss to Clemson and the defeats this season that shouldn’t have kept Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff but did anyway.
But focusing on those handful of blemishes should not overshadow what in the big picture should be considered a masterpiece of a career.
“I think it’s different to think about this being [the end], because he’s just been here for so long, and that’s our reality,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “We see him every day, we see him back there at quarterback, and next year you’re going to turn on the TV and there’s going to be a different quarterback back there. And I feel like more people will appreciate what he’s done when he’s gone.
“I know the next guy stepping up has big shoes to fill and they’re going to be excited to do that, but just what he’s brought to this program as a leader and as a player, I feel like it won’t be able to be duplicated.”
That’s probably a pretty safe bet given the ridiculous list of accomplishments on Barrett’s résumé, even with a couple of possible holes that crack the door for debate.
Whoops, there I go again, tempted to weigh in again on the J.T. Barrett Legacy. It feels inescapable, and when he heads into the NFL draft, it will start up once again.
So for this week, Friday is for a farewell — even if one last victory probably would be a nice bit of extra credit.
“Do I think that this [Cotton Bowl] defines his career? Absolutely not,” center Billy Price said. “The guy has done more for this team than anybody else in Ohio State history — ever. But if you’re looking to cap it off in the right way? Absolutely. I think that’s more appropriate than saying this game defines whether or not he’s a success or a failure here at Ohio State.
“Go open up the record book. He’s doing OK.”
There will be no argument against that here, guaranteed.