Make no mistake, Ohio State is officially J.T. Barrett’s team.
Unlike in 2015, Barrett enters the season fully healthy and without competition from Cardale Jones. After rotating at quarterback with Jones throughout the beginning of the season, Barrett took the reins again and capped his season with an impressive performance against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now it’s time for Barrett to start and finish the season as Ohio State’s guy. What should Buckeyes fans expect from Barrett in 2016?
Here are a few factors to consider:
Barrett’s 2014 production is more important than last season’s numbers
Barrett threw for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 682 yards and 11 scores last season. But Barrett’s sporadic playing time makes these stats harder to decipher and nearly meaningless. He probably should have been the starting quarterback to begin the year, but instead was forced to rotate with Jones before seizing the job later. The 2015 season didn’t reveal much regarding Barrett’s development.
Barrett’s 2014 season provides a much better sample size to evaluate. Barrett took over for the injured Braxton Miller and performed admirably, throwing for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns while rushing for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Barrett grasped the offense quickly and thrived in it, especially on read-option plays out of the shotgun or pistol formations. Barrett’s dual-threat capabilities are enticing and he should get at least 150 carries to go with roughly 300 pass attempts as the focal point of OSU’s up-tempo, spread offense.
His debut season provides plenty of reason for optimism, but a confounding 2015 season muddles Barrett’s potential for 2016.
How will Ohio State’s weapons affect Barrett’s play?
In 2014, Barrett had the benefit of Ezekiel Elliott as his running back and pass catchers Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Nick Vannett to throw to. All of those players moved on to the NFL and Ohio State will be forced to elevate unproven players at those spots.
The hope is that receivers Corey Smith and Noah Brown will fill the starting jobs seamlessly after having their seasons cut short by leg injuries a year ago. As for the void at tailback, Ohio State currently doesn’t have a clear-cut solution. Bri’onte Dunn and Mike Weber were the frontrunners following spring practice. But Weber has never taken a collegiate snap and Dunn has only 48 career carries.
The Buckeyes will also need H-back Curtis Samuel to step up as a consistent threat. Samuel caught 22 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 17 times for 132 yards and a touchdown last season. He will be one of the X-factors on Ohio State’s offense.
Barrett will certainly have some talented pieces around him, but many of those role players lack experience at the collegiate level.
Durability down the stretch
The most important element in this projection is health. Barrett has had a couple of serious injuries throughout his career. He sustained a season-ending knee injury in 2012 during the fifth game of his senior season at Rider High School in Texas. He also sustained a season-ending ankle injury in the final regular season game of Ohio State’s 2014 national championship season. That injury launched Jones’ career and created a quarterback controversy in Columbus.
With new weapons getting acclimated around him, don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes rely heavily on Barrett’s arm and legs for at least the early portion of the season. Durability could be the only thing stopping Barrett from a tremendous season.
2016 regular season projection: 3,100 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns, 950 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns
Barrett is going to be the focal point of Ohio State’s offense regardless of whether the weapons around him develop. This passing projection could be deemed as conservative, but a difficult schedule plus uncertainty at the other skill positions leaves this projection on the safer side.
With so much talent departing, it’s up to Barrett to get the Buckeyes back to the promised land and into the College Football Playoff.