COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The controversy is finally, mercifully over at Ohio State.
After months of tracking every statistic imaginable, debating arm strength versus rushing ability, installing a two-quarterback rotation, dealing with a suspension and even opening up the possibility that a third guy with experience at the position could conceivably climb back into the mix, the Buckeyes at long last have stability at the most important position on the field.
And the smile on Urban Meyer’s face makes it quite clear how valuable that could be for the nation’s No. 3 team ahead of a huge showdown on Saturday with No. 13 Michigan State.
“I've got a lot of free time,” Meyer joked on Monday. “But, no, there is a comforting level.
“I know the amount of hours spent on that conversation and that thought to make sure we're doing the right thing was probably inordinate. If I could ever put a mark [and figure out] how much time I've spent personally and also as a staff on, first of all, doing the right thing, and then second of all, how we manage that situation ... there’s not a whole lot of conversation about that now.”
Meyer obviously isn’t suddenly kicking up his feet behind his desk at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center now that J.T. Barrett has clearly established himself ahead of Cardale Jones. But after nearly a full year of questions about his decorated passers, seemingly endless scrutiny as the Buckeyes used them both at times early in the season and then an off-the-field disruption when Barrett was suspended after reclaiming the starting job, the fact that the quarterbacks were no longer a dominant topic of conversation was certainly welcomed by Meyer.
And he’s not the only one who stands to benefit with Barrett solidly in position to make his second consecutive start at a time of year when stability figures to be of paramount importance with the stakes as high as they could possibly be in the bid to defend the national title. The Buckeyes certainly didn’t envision back in August that the uncertainty would spill all the way over into November, and it may have contributed to some less-than-impressive victories early in the season. But that’s no longer an issue now that they have settled on Barrett’s multipurpose skills to lead them.
“Going into the season, no, I didn’t think this was going to happen,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “But you saw how things were going early and things had to be worked out. Then obviously on the bye week we had a little issue with J.T., and Cardale gets thrown back in there. I didn’t expect it going into the season, but last year I didn’t expect to lose Braxton [Miller] and J.T. and then have Cardale go in there.
“In practice, it needs to be the same as it is in a game. You practice with different quarterbacks, there are things always changing. Our offense changes with who is in there at quarterback, how we run the offense changes. It’s just nice to have continuity and nice to know, ‘This is our guy and we’re going to ride with it.’”
Barrett is firmly in control of the reins now for the Buckeyes, and they have been at their best over the second half of the season with him in charge. The redshirt sophomore’s ability to make the right decisions both as a rushing and passing threat have helped overcome some issues with an injury-depleted receiving corps and an offensive line that hasn’t lived up to its usual standards in pass protection, and his production has left little to argue about recently.
Even though Barrett looked a little rusty as he returned from his one-game exile on Saturday at Illinois, he still accounted for 224 total yards with a pair of touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to another comfortable win. And for one of the few times since the heated race to win the quarterback job started in earnest during training camp, that performance was enough to finally give Meyer some time to at least think about something else.
“What I think is really comforting about this whole thing is the way Cardale has handled it,” Meyer said. “He's gone into the game, he's won us a game. The way they practice, the way they maintain that incredible relationship. Because that, for the normal human, I imagine that [competition] would drive a stake between two people that are very, very close.
“You want to destroy a team? You have someone with some other issue or some other purpose than to be a team-first player. We don't have that.”
The Buckeyes do still have two capable quarterbacks. But at long last they also have a pecking order and no reason to debate it.