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Ohio State loses a Heisman candidate QB -- again

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State lived through its own personal horror film, and it came out on the other side to discover it can survive the loss of a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.

Now, it is going to have to endure a sequel.

The Buckeyes were written off after losing Braxton Miller during training camp in August and then dropping an early game with his replacement under center, J.T. Barrett, who turned out to be every bit as productive as his predecessor. He might have been even better in some ways as he rewrote the record books and kicked off his own stiff-arm campaign while leading the No. 6 Buckeyes back into position for a spot in the four-team field for the College Football Playoff.

But then, Ohio State's archnemesis struck again, and this season that description doesn't fit Michigan, with the 42-28 rivalry win almost an afterthought after the villainous Injury Bug returned and ended another quarterback's season with a fractured ankle that will require surgery for Barrett.

"He's for sure out," coach Urban Meyer said. "We've had two quarterbacks go down, and we're going to find out if we earn our coaching stripes and do a good job getting [Cardale] Jones ready to go. … We've got to go on, and we've got a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it.

"[But] obviously, we lost a Heisman candidate today."

Few teams could even think about issuing a statement like that twice in the same season, but that is the situation Meyer and the Buckeyes are now facing heading into next week's Big Ten title game and beyond.

In terms of the playoff, Ohio State was already going to be an interesting test case for the selection committee after Barrett's struggles in his second career start contributed to an ugly loss to Virginia Tech before he developed into the nation's most prolific touchdown artist -- adding three before leaving the Horseshoe on a cart Saturday afternoon. Now his absence could force a completely different examination of the résumé for the Buckeyes, who are down to their third-string quarterback heading into the postseason.

Of course, there is a more pressing matter than rankings or the playoff field this week, and Ohio State can still send a message that it belongs among the nation's best by claiming a conference championship with a win against another ranked opponent. But even before leaving the stadium to enjoy a third consecutive win against the Wolverines that capped yet another perfect regular season in Big Ten play under Meyer, the Buckeyes were already delivering the same message about their offense moving forward that they did three months ago.

"Obviously we're upset we lost J.T.," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "He's a warrior, he's done a lot for us this year and had a great year. But a lot of people were probably thinking the same thing as they're thinking now when Braxton went down.

"So one guy, even though he's had a great year and we love him, that's not going to change our team completely."

The Buckeyes actually did change when Miller was ruled out for the season after re-injuring his shoulder in August, emphasizing the passing game more thanks to Barrett's accuracy and decision-making and watching him break the Big Ten single-season touchdown record along the way.

It's certainly going to be a tall order for Jones to duplicate that type of relief effort, particularly since he's not nearly as sharp with the football as Barrett. But he's a load to tackle at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, brings mobility to the quarterback position and has also been in the program long enough for both Jones to know the offense and the coaching staff to understand how he fits in it.

And with the two Heisman contenders ahead of him now officially out for the rest of the season, it is up to Jones to supply the happy ending if there's going to be another for the Buckeyes.

"We had a guy, to put it in battlefield terms, we had a guy and his rifle go down. Somebody has to pick it up and keep fighting," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I wouldn't have asked for this, certainly, but this game is very crazy at times -- throws you a lot of curveballs -- and you've got to be able to adapt and adjust. I'm sure we'll be able to do that."

Ohio State has done it once. Now it will have to deliver an encore.