DALLAS — The Cotton Bowl was a farewell to Ohio State’s quarterback of the last four years and possibly a hello to the future Cleveland Browns quarterback, pending two big decisions necessary to make that happen.
J.T. Barrett ended his four-year run as OSU’s starting quarterback doing two of the things he’d done throughout his career — winning football games and leaving people debating if he was great, very good, good, or in the minds of some of his critics, not the quarterback his statistics said he was.
Darnold could enter the NFL draft but that decision will be made in the next two weeks. The Cleveland Browns could make him the No. 1 overall choice in the NFL draft but the thoughts about that decision might percolate for several months before it is finalized.
Friday night’s 24-7 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl was a game OSU fans have seen often in Barrett’s career.
He led, he gained the tough yards, he got the ball into the end zone but he was an unremarkable 11 of 17 for 117 yards and no touchdowns.
During Friday night’s game, he broke Drew Brees’ record for career total offense and surpassed his own Ohio State record for most touchdowns accounted for in a season. Those numbers scream greatness but greatness is not necessarily how Barrett will be remembered by everyone.
Of course, when his back-ups have to take a leadership role and take the criticism next season when they are on the field, he might suddenly be remembered more fondly.
Urban Meyer has been in Barrett’s corner through everything. He called him “an elite leader, who raised the level of toughness, raised the level of the will to win.”
“God made a special guy there, very unique guy. And he’s got a skill set that I haven’t come across very often,” he said.
Darnold was 26 of 45 for 356 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass against OSU. He was sacked eight times and had three turnovers, including an interception that Damon Webb returned for a touchdown.
This led to a flood of Twitter sarcasm that said he already looked like a Cleveland Browns quarterback.
But that overlooks the throws he made when he did have time. He had some bad moments, but he also appears to have first-round potential.
Meyer was among those impressed. “He’s a top five pick. I was watching him warm up. Whoa,” he said.
Like Meyer talking about Barrett, USC coach Clay Helton said Darnold’s qualities go beyond his physical skills.
“I told the team Sam was a warrior tonight to get off the ground as many times as he did and make the plays he did,” Helton said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.