COLUMBUS — J.T. Barrett says he hasn’t had Ohio State’s game against Penn State on Saturday marked on his calendar.
That’s OK. Everyone else has done that for him.
For many people Saturday’s match-up between No. 6 Ohio State and No. 2 Penn State will not only determine the course of the football season for OSU, it will also be a factor in how Barrett’s career is viewed.
Fair or unfair, that’s how some people will see it, regardless of his 32-5 record as a starter, including 3-0 against Michigan.
Barrett is 5-3 in games he started against Top 10 teams. But in a what have you done for me lately world, his reputation as a big-game player has been diminished a bit by throwing no touchdown passes and three interceptions in losses to Clemson and Oklahoma.
Others might be fixated on the twin R’s – reputation and revenge for a stunning 24-21 loss at Penn State last season – but Barrett says he is looking only at moving OSU one step closer to what it hopes will be a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s not like I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m trying to win each game because that’s where we’re at right now. I’m glad it’s here and we’re in front of our home crowd and things like that. But to say I was looking forward to it with the date marked, that’s not true,” Barrett said on Tuesday.
Barrett’s first start against a Top 10 team was in a 49-37 win at No. 7 Michigan State in 2014, which was one of his best games – 300 yards passing and three touchdowns and 86 yards rushing and two more TDs.
His other wins against Top 10 opponents were over No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2015 season, over No. 3 Michigan, No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 9 Nebraska in 2016. The losses came against No. 9 Michigan State in 2015, No. 2 Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal last year and against No. 5 Oklahoma this season.
The way Barrett has played in OSU’s last five games (18 touchdown passes, no interceptions) since the loss to Oklahoma has silenced the calls for more playing time for the Buckeyes’ other quarterbacks. With the pieces around him playing better, Barrett has looked like the quarterback he was in 2014, when he was a Heisman Trophy contender.
A win on Saturday would put OSU on the inside track to winning the Big Ten East Division and make another playoff trip a possibility.
A loss would mean no playoff and would bring Barrett’s critics out again to say, “Told you so.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has always been in Barrett’s corner. After the Oklahoma loss he said changing quarterbacks was “not even a question.”
When Meyer was asked if the Penn State game will be the one that defines Barrett’s career on Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference, he said, “He’s had several of them. I wouldn’t say this is the one, but this is obviously an important one.”
Meyer said one of the things that impresses him most about Barrett is that “his consistency and toughness never waver.”
Barrett was talking about what it takes to win big games as a team, but something he said on Tuesday applies to him individually, too.
“At the end of the day, when you think about it, in big time games it’s not something where you have to tell anybody to go hard,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.