COLUMBUS, Ohio -- From the very start, the uncertainty is gone for Ohio State at quarterback.
There is no rehab to complete for a broken ankle.
There is no competition for playing time awaiting when everybody is healthy.
And there is no question that J.T. Barrett is the leader, the starter, and the single most important player for the Buckeyes as they look to reload for another run at a national title despite losing so much talent around the rising junior.
Just how much that clarity means moving forward might be as difficult to quantify as figuring out exactly what Ohio State lost with all those distractions and setbacks in 2015. But Barrett proved right out of the gate with his return to form in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day that 2016 is his year, and the Buckeyes are undeniably his team moving forward.
“That doesn’t really change anything, because I’m not going to relax or get comfortable,” Barrett said. “That’s when you stop getting better, and I want to be better. There are things I know I can work on.
"But I’ll carry the weight on my shoulders to make plays, which I’m comfortable with. I have confidence in myself to do that."
If Ohio State had lost any faith after a rough start to the season or during the struggles when Barrett and Cardale Jones were rotating at quarterback, by now those doubts should all be gone given the way Barrett wrapped up the season.
The loss to Michigan State and Barrett’s inability to get much going through the air as Ohio State’s playoff chances slipped away might have been cause for concern. But after responding with a blowout win over Michigan that prominently featured Barrett’s dual-threat ability, a strong month of practice produced his finest overall performance of the season with an efficient 19-of-31 passing performance for 211 yards and a touchdown to complement 96 yards on the ground.
The offensive MVP trophy that came along with those individual numbers was another callback to his freshman season when he burst on the scene and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race. And for the offense as a whole, it was a glimpse at what coach Urban Meyer had been trying to recapture all season with a more balanced attack after only attempting more than 30 passes in one other game all season.
“We’re going to adapt our offense here a little bit in the offseason,” Meyer said. “I want to make some adjustments. I want more of a balance, like we were in 2014. We need to throw the ball, J.T. threw it 31 times, and that’s what I’m looking for.
“The way he's finishing [is encouraging]. ... I think his injury did [impact him] -- sitting him out of spring practice, J.T. was not himself during the summer, and then obviously the dual situation we were playing with. I think any time that you are the starting quarterback, like next year he is the starting quarterback, I would anticipate a nice, gradual incline during the season.”
For really the first time, that improvement can start in the spring with first-team reps and no physical limitations for Barrett. And the Buckeyes are going to need him at his best next fall with a retooled roster that might included just three other returning offensive starters.
Ohio State has obviously recruited plenty of talent since Meyer arrived, and there’s not a shortage of it ready to contribute at the skill positions to keep building on the momentum Barrett created for the passing game in the win over Notre Dame.
But if nothing else, Ohio State is starting the year knowing one thing for certain. And focusing on one talented, veteran quarterback is a fine place to begin the reloading project.
“It’s going to be the mindset for me that I’m just going to keep on getting better,” Barrett said. “It’s going to be the little things that help me get where I want to get.
“There’s a level I want to be at next year, and even when I reach there, keep on progressing.”
This year, there’s nothing in his way.