COLUMBUS – Ohio State got Michigan’s best shot and fate’s worst.
It survived the first, but the jury is still out on how it will handle the second.
There is no way to minimize how big the loss of quarterback J.T. Barrett with a broken ankle is, even though the Buckeyes and coach Urban Meyer tried very hard to do that after a 42-28 win over archrival Michigan on Saturday.
Has any college football team ever lost two Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacks in one season?
Has any college football team ever said, “Do you believe in miracles?” twice?
The bigger question for OSU right now is if it can lose two Heisman Trophy caliber QBs and still win this weekend’s Big Ten championship game and convince the College Football Playoff committee it is one of the four best teams in college football.
Barrett’s performance after taking over for Braxton Miller when OSU’s three-year starter suffered a season-ending shoulder injury was borderline miraculous.
He broke Troy Smith’s Ohio State season record for touchdown passes. He broke Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for most touchdowns accounted for, passing and running.
He allowed Ohio State to hope this could still be a special season, even without Miller, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
But with one run for no gain into the middle of Michigan’s defense with 14:45 to play, Barrett joined Miller on the injured list.
Barrett’s ankle was bent in a direction ankles aren’t meant to be turned and it looked bad from the start.
He wanted to get up at first but teammates told him to stay down. A golf cart was brought out almost immediately. It was obvious this was a serious injury.
That meant Cardale Jones, who was demoted to No. 3 behind Barrett in August before Miller’s injury, is Ohio State’s quarterback.
Ohio State is trading 12 starts, 2,834 yards passing and 34 touchdown passes this season for 118 yards passing, 2 touchdown passes and no career starts.
After Saturday’s game, Meyer said he thinks the Big Ten championship game will decide if his team is selected for the four-team College Football Playoff.
“I think it’s all going to be how we play next week. And I think we’re going to have Cardale ready to go,” he said.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman said, “I don’t think any one player makes a team. We have a lot of talented guys on this offense who can make up for the loss of J.T.
“The committee is pretty smart. They’ll figure it out. But no one player makes a team. There are 21 other starters on this team who have battled all season to get to this point and I’m sure they’ll take that into account,” he said.
Eventually, Heuerman admitted a win over Michigan felt different without Barrett.
“You’ve got a weird feeling. It’s your senior day, you beat the team up north, you’re going to the Big Ten championship game and it’s like something is missing. And something is missing — your starting quarterback who you rallied around all season is done. But we just have to keep moving forward and get ready for next week.”
The unanswered question, though, is even if OSU gets through the Big Ten championship game, would the College Football Playoff committee consider it a wounded team without Barrett?
Forty-one years ago, after Ohio State and Michigan played to a 10-10 tie and tied for the conference championship, the Big Ten’s athletic directors voted to send OSU to the Rose Bowl, which was the ultimate prize in the Big Ten at that time.
One of the deciding factors was that Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin suffered a broken collarbone against Ohio State and some AD’s thought the Buckeyes were a stronger team than Michigan without its starting quarterback.
Michigan hasn’t had much luck beating Ohio State on the field lately. Saturday’s win was the 12th in the last 14 years for OSU.
But if the committee does exclude Ohio State, could it be the Curse of Dennis Franklin reaching back from the 1970s that does them in?