Following another stellar season that culminated in a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win, Ohio State will see more turnover in 2016 than just about any program in the nation. After sending 12 players to the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes return just 24 percent of their 2015 production on offense and defense. That’s lower than all but one team in the country (UMass), according to SB Nation.
And so it’s time for new faces to step up – as they often do at Ohio State, the Midwest’s best program at recruiting talent and then turning it over to the NFL. All of the starters and role players will have their importance, but some will carry far more than others.
We have been counting down the 10 most important players to Ohio State in 2016, and we’ve reached the end of the line.
Here’s our list so far, with links to the stories about their importance:
And last on the list…
No. 1: J.T. Barrett, redshirt junior quarterback
The reasons why J.T. Barrett will be the most valuable player for the Buckeyes, and arguably the entire Big Ten, are many.
For an idea of just how much quarterback play means to this team, take a look at last season. In the first half of the season, struggles by both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones to gain rhythm or a grip on the starting job resulted in tight contests and an offense that lacked the steadiness and big-play ability it rode to a national championship the year before.
And the game where quarterback play was at its worst, Barrett’s 100-yard performance in the pouring rain against Michigan State, resulted in the one loss that kept Ohio State from the Big Ten Championship Game and, ultimately, the playoffs.
But after that game, Barrett returned to the kind of play that helped him finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a redshirt freshman in 2014, when he totaled better than 3,700 yards and 45 touchdowns. In the final two games last year, Barrett had 252 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-13 win over Michigan and then 307 yards and a score in a 44-28 Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
He, and the Ohio State offense, were all of a sudden back to norm.
Barrett finished last season with 11 touchdowns against four interceptions, but he’ll need to be immensely more consistent in 2016. Now, he’ll need to be a steadying force for an Ohio State offense that lost almost all of its weaponry.
For the first time in three years, he’ll play without Ezekiel Elliott rushing for 1,800 yards a season, without Michael Thomas freezing cornerbacks outside and without Jalin Marshall making the plays in space to open games up. He’ll have Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson back in H-back roles, but virtually everyone else he’s grown comfortable throwing to is gone, and so are three members of the offensive line.
A legit Heisman contender, Barrett is in a great situation as a three-year starter in Urban Meyer’s system, as he’s the only returning quarterback from the top four teams in the Big Ten East. He’ll be responsible for getting redshirt freshman Mike Weber right into the flow of option plays and zone runs, for taking advantage of Noah Brown’s playmaking ability outside and for leading a team like Meyer believes he can.
The potential reward is huge: It’s not hyperbole to suggest that just how high Barrett soars will determine whether or not Ohio State returns to the College Football Playoff.