COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett can end the discussion.
All the Ohio State quarterback needs in one more win in The Game.
Maybe that won’t definitively close the debates about where he ranks among the all-time greats with the Buckeyes, but a perfect record against the Wolverines should shorten the argument. If wins in the greatest rivalry in college football are truly all that matter to the programs and their fans, then what more could there to be discuss about Barrett if he stays unbeaten in the most important games of his career?
Obviously at a place like Ohio State where national championships are expected to be won, the legacy conversation is a bit more complicated — particularly at quarterback. But if that old cliche about throwing out the record books when Michigan and Ohio State get together and this matchup being the only one on the schedule that matters is true, Barrett’s record in The Game should be his ace in the hole.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I think this is going to be a critical game for his career.”
The rivalry already has been huge for Barrett three times. Plus, he’s been pretty damn good in those three previous victories, even though there are a couple caveats.
Last year he didn’t throw the ball all that well, though he helped will the Buckeyes forward offensively against a stout defense and converted that crucial short-yardage keeper that prompted The Spot and set up the game-winning touchdown. And his first outing in The Game was more memorable for his fractured right ankle and is often overlooked because of what happened after his injury, but he had already accounted for 3 scores while putting Ohio State out front before his record-breaking season came to such a heartbreaking end.
No extra explanation is required for the one in between, with Barrett leading a thorough dismantling of the Wolverines in his other visit to the Big House. He and Ezekiel Elliott were absolutely unstoppable on the ground, and Barrett finished with 3 rushing touchdowns and threw for another in a game that should have reminded the College Football Playoff selection committee of just what the defending champions were capable of that season.
At any rate, it should come as no surprise that somebody with as many school and Big Ten records as Barrett would have risen to the occasion with the ultimate bragging rights on the line. It certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted just because he wasn’t the starter during the postseason run of 2014 or because the Buckeyes struggled so mightily against Clemson in the semifinal last season.
And if he wins once more against the Wolverines, there’s really nothing that should be held against him or his decorated career no matter what happens after that. A Big Ten championship, a potential return to the playoff and a couple wins there would look nice on the resume, but that would just be icing on the cake.
If The Game is as crucially important as we’ve always known it to be, the real substance for Barrett would be that complete set of Gold Pants. And a chain with five sets of them to show off would make a compelling case for his claim as the best quarterback in Ohio State history.
End of discussion.