J.T. Barrett put any doubts to rest Sunday about his status for the Cotton Bowl. The first question in a press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center referred to his injured knee and whether it could prevent him from playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes on Dec. 29.
Barrett smiled and kept his answer short.
“I’m going to play,” he said.
Barrett’s career will not have a storybook ending because the No. 5 Buckeyes (11-2) aren’t going to the College Football Playoff. They will play No. 8 Southern California (11-2) instead.
Barrett filled one empty spot on his resume by leading Ohio State to the Big Ten Championship with a 27-21 victory Saturday against Wisconsin. Barrett won’t get the chance to match Cardale Jones’ efforts from the 2014 season when Jones led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title and then victories against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the national championship.
On the other hand, Barrett’s career will come full circle. He often describes himself as “just a guy” from Wichita Falls, Texas. That’s a two-hour drive northwest of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, site of the Cotton Bowl.
Barrett has never played at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. He hasn’t played in Texas since high school because he was injured when Ohio State beat Oregon at AT&T Stadium.
That was the bright side of being left out of the playoff.
“I think it will be good,” Barrett said. “If anything, I gotta start begging for tickets pretty soon, knowing my mom’s going to try to have the family reunion at the Cowboys’ stadium.”
Barrett led the Buckeyes to the playoffs last season as a redshirt junior. That Ohio State team finished 11-1 in the regular season but didn’t win the Big Ten Championship. This team finished 11-2. Losses to Oklahoma and Iowa kept the Buckeyes out of the field, though it was the Iowa one that doomed them the most.
“Do I feel like the Ohio State Buckeyes is a top-four team in the country? I do,” Barrett said. “And I am hurt by us not getting in. It’s one of those things that’s kind of out of your control. It’s going to sting for a minute. But at the end of the day you do what you’re supposed to do. We were supposed to go beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, and we were able to do that. And it was up to the committee to make the decision.”
That Barrett played at all against Wisconsin was a minor miracle. That he played well, at least in the first half, when he threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, falls into that category, too, considering all he went through in the week leading up to the game.
Barrett had arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Nov. 25, one day after a 31-20 victory at Michigan.
“When they said you gotta have surgery to clean it up in there,” Barrett said, “and the recovery time is normally three to four weeks, I was like, ‘We don’t really have that kind of time.’ So I was here all day, every day. I had like a little station set up. They hooked me up so I was able to watch film and ice my knee, get treatment, things like that. So it was just a constant thing throughout last week and just trying to get myself prepared. But, yeah, normally you get your knee scoped and it’s three-, four-week type deal.”
Barrett’s love for his teammates convinced him to try to come back in six days. Barrett now owns 31 school records. He became the all-time winningest quarterback in Ohio State history with his 37th victory as a starter. He will start his 44th and final game in the Cotton Bowl.
“He’s a rare guy, rare breed,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, “… so he doesn’t need to prove anything else. We need to go find a way to win this bowl game.”
Ohio State vs. USC, 8:30 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN, 1410