This story is over 5 years old.


J.T. Barrett Is a Backup Quarterback Because Self-Determination Is a Lie

The best quarterback on Ohio State's roster would be also be the best quarterback anywhere else. He isn't, because sports aren't as nearly fair as people want them to be.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

To college football analysts, J.T. Barrett is better schematic fit for Ohio State's offense than Cardale Jones. To the teammates who voted him captain, he is a better leader. To statisticians, he has a more robust resume.

And to Urban Meyer, J.T. Barrett is a backup, at least for the time being.

Read More: Penn State's James Franklin Can Recruit, but Can He Coach?

This is unfair, but also inevitable. Jones, not Barrett, is QB1 because no player in the history of the sport enjoyed a more significant first three starts than the three Jones made last year leading the Buckeyes to a national title. Jones won with enough flair to microwave himself into a brand: Twelve Gauge, which practically suggested itself given the explosiveness he injects into downfield throws and the way he busts through would-be tacklers like, well, a shotgun shell. For his encore, Jones turned down a NFL Draft that was starving for quarterback talent not named Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota to return to OSU. Jones has one year of eligibility fewer than Barrett. Unless or until he squanders some of that political capital on the field, there's simply no way Meyer can feasibly sit him.


That's about the only possible set of circumstances that could force a player who finished fifth in Heisman voting as a redshirt freshman, which Barrett did, to the bench. Let's not mince words: Barrett was the second-best quarterback in college football last year. His quarterback rating of 169.8 was 24 points higher than Winston's. His 45 total touchdowns were four more than Cody Kessler, now a Sports Illustrated cover boy who was showered with preseason All-American hype. His 938 rushing yards were 231 more than Trevone Boykin, who finished one spot ahead of him in last year's Heisman vote. The only quarterback who could definitively claim to have been better was Mariota. It sounds cliché , but in this case it cannot ring more true: J.T. Barrett would the starting quarterback at literally any other school in America that fields a collegiate football team. By rights, he should be the starter at Ohio State, too. No matter how fervently people argue that the player who wants or deserves it most wins, the cruel reality is that sports are not a meritocracy. In that regard, they really do imitate life.

There are talented, qualified, determined people buried beneath less competent ones in every sector of business and government throughout the world, sometimes for no other reason than sheer bad luck. In Barrett's case, that's exactly what it was: his ankle shattered under a pile of Michigan Wolverines like a cheap champagne flute, and his backup now walks on water in Columbus. Such luck is more or less how Barrett got the quarterback job in the first place, claiming the position only after Braxton Miller (who is now playing wide receiver) suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp last year.


Which is all to say that life sucks sometimes. Meyer can fall in line with decades of tradition and give lip service to a supposedly open quarterback competition between Barrett and Jones, but that doesn't change the reality of what it was: a glorified electoral primary in which a sitting president with a stratospheric approval rating—Jones—had far too much institutional backing to lose his seat.

Cardale Jones, not J.T. Barrett, will dictate who starts at quarterback for Ohio State. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Technically, Barrett is listed as a co-starter in this week's depth chart, an extension of Meyer's pointless subterfuge leading up to Monday's season opener against Virginia Tech. Because Saturday's opponent is the hapless Hawaii Warriors, both quarterbacks have a strong chance of playing, and playing strongly. Make no mistake, though: Jones is the one with agency here. Keep doing what he's doing and he'll keep his job, because no one gets impeached without cause. He'll then cruise off to the NFL, leaving Barrett to mutilate defenses throughout the Midwest in 2016. There are far worse fates than a temporary demotion, not that it makes the situation any easier for him to choke down.

What ought to make it at least a little easier is that no one's to blame here. Meyer is doing what circumstances have forced him into doing, while Jones is merely reaping benefits from an opportunity that gifted itself to him. Apart from cursing his own bone density or the mass of Michigan's defensive line, Barrett can't point the finger in any particular direction, either.

J.T. Barrett succumbed to forces outside of his control. Now all he can do is wait.