COLUMBUS, Ohio -- J.T. Barrett has heard the jokes.
The Ohio State quarterback has read a few articles speculating about the potential for his backups to overtake him in the lineup. They hint at something Barrett can’t hide from heading into what will definitely be his final season leading the Buckeyes after he started most of the past three seasons.
Yes, he has been around for a while.
And, no, he isn't going away yet.
“We’re in a society now where people want the new and latest thing,” Barrett said. “I’ve been here for a minute. I read something the other day that was hilarious. It said, ‘J.T. Barrett has been at Ohio State longer than Bill Snyder has been a head coach.’
“When you think about it, we live in an era where everybody wants something new, wants something fresh. When the new iPhone 7 comes out, everybody has to get that because it’s the new, latest thing. I’m not the new, latest thing anymore. ... [But] if there’s somebody out there who is better than me here at Ohio State, then they would be playing.”
That actually already happened to Barrett once with the Buckeyes. Perhaps the combination of being beaten by Cardale Jones to open the 2015 season and the drop in his completion percentage last year -- even before the humbling shutout loss in the College Football Playoff -- has at least cracked the door for questions about whether it’s time for somebody else to lead a loaded Ohio State roster.
But even with Joe Burrow offering glimpses of his ability to command the attack off the bench last season or Dwayne Haskins turning heads with his rocket arm on the scout team, those discussions aren’t happening inside the locker room at Ohio State.
Barrett is a proven winner, with 26 victories as a starter. He’s one of the most prolific touchdown-producing machines the Big Ten has ever seen, accounting for 100 between his scoring passes and rushes the past three years. He’s also the first three-time captain in Ohio State’s storied history, which leaves no doubt about the value of his long-heralded leadership.
But the Buckeyes are aware of the whispers about their quarterback situation outside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. They are typically met with a response that doesn’t leave much room for debate.
“As far as the conversations about who should be the starter, who should not be -- like the NFL draft coming up -- your body of work stands for a lot,” said center Billy Price, a four-year starter on the offensive line. “And I stand behind him 110 percent within the locker room, whether we’re on High Street, wherever we’re at. There’s just a lot of things that people don’t know about, they don’t understand it. And I know some articles try to explain our offense, and you guys do hit some things right, but you’re not in the rooms, you don’t know what’s going on. There are things that happen that fans and people get upset about that even we don’t have control on.
“I’ve heard it from one or two people. Again, I’m going to snap the ball, give it to him, he’s going to make plays, and we’re going to go win some games.”
Barrett, of course, has done that plenty for the Buckeyes since he was famously thrust into the starting lineup on short notice as a redshirt freshman when Braxton Miller was injured late in training camp in 2014.
But Barrett’s career hasn’t been an uninterrupted fairy tale since then, either. There was the broken ankle at the end of that season, which sidelined him for the postseason run to the national title with Jones at the helm. After struggling to get back to full strength when competing with Jones the following year, Barrett admitted to pressing and needed time to regain his confidence. While he helped drag the young Buckeyes somewhat unexpectedly to the College Football Playoff last season, Barrett’s QBR and completion percentages dropped for the second consecutive season.
Much of the inconsistency with the passing attack last season can be attributed to some struggles with the pass protection up front, a receiving corps that never seemed to fully tap into its potential and some playcalling that at times lacked imagination.
Barrett, too, has things to work on, from his footwork to his ball placement. With Kevin Wilson hired as the new offensive coordinator in the offseason, some change is certainly coming for the Buckeyes. Just don’t expect it to include a new quarterback.
“The first thing I have to do with J.T. is, No. 1, you’ve got one of the best players in the country, so every day you have to bring your best,” Wilson said. “Working with J.T. means you’ve got to bring it every day at a high end.
“To me, just from afar, the way he played as a freshman was uncanny. … I just have always loved his command and presence. Now that I’m here, you see more about him. What he does is he affects his position because he has a strong effect on Joe, strong effect on the young guys with Dwayne and Tate [Martell], has a strong effect on me. He’s got some great leadership skills. He’s a blessed kid, and I’m blessed to have a chance to coach him.”
Barrett didn’t have to return to Ohio State. If Barrett felt he had truly worn out his welcome with the Buckeyes, he could have cleared the way for his eventual successors, taken a graduate transfer somewhere else in college football or declared for the NFL draft.
But Barrett never really considered going anywhere, especially with the taste of a 31-0 CFP loss lingering. And where it counts on campus, the arms welcoming his return for one final season were as wide as they could be.
“If they think that I’m a bad player, I mean, I don’t know what you want me to say, I’m not trying to be,” Barrett said. “It’s not like I’m trying to mess up the Ohio State Buckeyes. I read it sometimes too, and it was like I was the enemy, I was the bad guy, and I’m like, ‘Guys, I’m not trying to do that to the Buckeyes. I’m trying to be the best I can be at Ohio State in order for us as Ohio State Buckeyes to win national championships, ballgames.’ That’s the purpose.
“Is it going to be perfect all the time? No. Being the quarterback, you get a lot of the blame, which I’m OK with. I accept it. But also, understand that bad things are going to happen, and I feel like I’m the best person for the job that we have at Ohio State.”
Until then, that shiny, new toy will just have to wait.