J.T. Barrett's journey back to being Ohio State's starting QB is complete

Herbstreit: Barrett will energize Ohio State (2:12)

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down Ohio State's potential with J.T. Barrett at quarterback and how the Buckeyes will respond with Barrett under center. (2:12)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The journey wasn’t easy, and it might have taken longer than expected.

But it ended right back where it began for J.T. Barrett, with the Ohio State quarterback once again on top of the depth chart.

After months of rehabilitation (from a fractured ankle), the unpredictable process of trying to regain confidence in his body, a heated competition with a national championship-winning teammate and some mental blocks that kept him from playing at the level he was accustomed to last season, Barrett finally appeared to break free in the past two weeks when the Buckeyes expanded his role off the bench. And with everything else apparently in the past and the redshirt sophomore once again looking like the guy who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race, it no longer made sense for Ohio State to keep him in that complementary role moving forward.

“I think it was really my mindset,” Barrett said. “Because the first two weeks, I was trying to come in and trying to make plays and really forcing it. That’s asking for bad things to happen, when you force things instead of letting the game come to you.

“Being that I wasn’t starting, when I came into the game, it was like ‘I want to make a play, need to make a play.’ So the forcing came along; now it’s just about executing the play that I have, and big plays come out of that.”

Plenty of points have come right along with them, and with Barrett accounting for seven touchdowns off the bench over the past two weeks and posting a nearly-perfect QBR in last week’s blowout of Penn State, it was clear that the time had come for him to resume his position ahead of Cardale Jones.

The Buckeyes are still in an enviable position with two talented options on hand, particularly since their different strengths will continue to provide coach Urban Meyer with the flexibility to either focus on the ground game with Barrett or potentially stretch the field with Jones and his big arm. But Ohio State certainly wasn’t living up to its own outsized expectations offensively with Jones sputtering at times in the red zone and in third-down situations, issues that seemingly vanished when Barrett was given opportunities to fix them over the past two games.

He wasn’t the answer for those problems during the first month of the season, particularly when given an extended look in a closer-than-expected win over Northern Illinois that did little to change the pecking order after Jones won the job in training camp. But whether it was nagging thoughts about his ankle or the difficult position he was in as a backup option, neither seem to be slowing him down now.

“We never really had that much of a detailed conversation about it,” Meyer said. “But there might have been some mental block on his own, because he’s such a cerebral [player].

“He is a tough guy, but I do personally believe that the confidence factor wasn’t quite there because he didn’t do it in spring, and in the summer, he didn’t look exactly like he does now. So there is probably some truth to that.”

There is no disputing which quarterback was more effective against the Nittany Lions, though, and that was finally enough to tip the scales back in Barrett’s favor after seven games working behind Jones.

But for every time Meyer has stressed that Barrett would have to win the job with the kind of performances he has provided recently, he’s also made it clear that he anticipates needing both of them in the second half of the season. How exactly the rotation will work now that the order has been reversed remains unclear and is always subject to change -- but a healthy, confident, first-team Barrett has undoubtedly altered the equation.

“Am I quicker? You tell me,” Barrett joked after the victory over Penn State. “Do I look faster? I felt fast, and I tried to run fast out there.

“I could hear the wind going through my helmet.”

Once again, Barrett is full-speed ahead. And now he might not need to slow himself down by looking back over his shoulder.