ARLINGTON, Texas -- An hour after Ohio State won it all without him, J.T. Barrett relaxed on the bench in front of his locker.
To his right sat Cardale Jones, Buckeyes hero, surrounded by reporters and cameras. The only thing in front of Barrett? His scooter. The only thing on his mind?
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Barrett said. “Just -- national championship, Ohio State, 2014. Sounds good, doesn’t it?”
Barrett swears he was calm throughout the game Monday night. There was never a doubt in his mind, never a fear that Jones couldn’t handle Oregon. A month and a half after a fractured ankle forced Barrett to pass the torch to the third-string quarterback, there’s nothing bittersweet about the way he’ll revel in the Buckeyes’ 42-20 drubbing of the Ducks in the College Football Playoff title game.
"I truly believed we could do this," Barrett said. "It was a matter of taking it one day at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves. When I’m sitting there and laying there and my ankle’s broken, I’m just like, 'Well damn, my ankle’s broken.' That’s just how I felt. 'Why now?' I questioned it, but at the end of the day, what I said to the guys when I was getting carted off the field was, 'Win the game.' Wasn’t about me."
All Barrett cared about on that Nov. 29 day was beating archrival Michigan. He didn't care about the Big Ten title, the national title aspirations or his personal ambitions. He’s proud of the way Jones bought into that one-day-at-a-time worldview, never letting the mission or the burden feel too heavy.
The college football world wondered how Jones would respond at each step. No matter how well he knew his understudy, surely Barrett was unsure about what was coming next, right?
“No. Nope. Knew Cardale would do it,” he said. “It wasn’t anything crazy. He didn’t do anything crazy. He didn’t have to do anything crazy, you know what I’m saying? That’s the great thing about this team. Nobody was alone on anything.
“If it was me, and say Braxton [Miller] didn’t get hurt, Braxton wouldn’t have to do anything on his own. We had that type of team this year. You didn’t have to do it by yourself. It’s not just on offense, but on defense as well. Nobody had to make all the plays. Everybody works together.”
Barrett sat back and watched as Jones and offensive coordinator Tom Herman etched game plans tailored to the 6-foot-5, 250-pound gunslinger’s strengths. He reminded Jones along the way: You don’t have to do it all to make this offense successful. It’s not all on you.
“His strengths are throwing the ball downfield, getting us in the right play and definitely being football smart,” Barrett said. “He played his game."
Ohio State doesn’t make it to AT&T Stadium -- or even the College Football Playoff -- without Barrett and the overwhelming impact the redshirt freshman made in 12 starts. The fifth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy can’t regret what he can’t control. He can focus on his comeback now.
His right leg is still in a cast. He’ll transition to a boot once he gets that off. After that, Barrett will get two screws removed and get started on rehab, likely around late February.
The discussion of any Ohio State quarterbacks departing is a non-starter for him. Barrett is coming back. He trusts Jones and Miller will too. Where that competition will lead, no one can say.
But after soaking it all in from the sideline Monday night, Barrett’s emotions aren’t the least bit mixed. As he moved back onto his scooter, Barrett’s grin still hadn’t subsided. The future, in his eyes, has never looked clearer.
“You know what this tastes like. You have that feeling, you know what this feels like. You’ll do whatever it takes to get here again,” Barrett said. “You don’t want to get away from what got you there. Keep on doing what got you there. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”