Ohio State and Clemson fans have known how dynamic the starting quarterback for their favorite teams has been since they first suited up. On Dec. 31, the nation will get to watch the playmaking ability of both OSU redshirt junior J.T. Barrett and Clemson junior Deshaun Watson.
Both players have a similar skill set behind them. While Barrett and Watson have the ability to tuck it and run when the pocket collapses or carry an offense with their arms, each has their own background and past that drives them forward.
Barrett was a young Longhorns fan, who had aspirations of one day playing under then-Texas coach Mack Brown in the burnt orange uniforms beloved by Austin natives. Watson, hailing from Gainesville, Georgia, is a former five-star recruit who drew interest from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Clemson and even Ohio State.
Barrett was thrust into the starting role during his redshirt freshman year with the Buckeyes after then-quarterback Braxton Miller injured his shoulder before the start of the 2014 season. Watson, on the other hand, received playing time in his freshman season and was named the starter late in September 2014.
Both have been discussed as possible Heisman Trophy winners in the past, and even drew some eyes this season as the best player in the nation. While Barrett has seemingly dropped out of the race following a few disappointing performances, Watson is still very much in the running.
“I don’t have a vote, but if I had one, it’d be the easiest vote ever,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on Sunday. “He represents everything you could possibly want in a Heisman. He’s made college football better in his three years.”
Barrett was a front-runner for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, but broke his ankle against Michigan, which ended his season. He was forced to watch from the sideline, as Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott led OSU to an improbable national championship.
Barrett had his chance to finish the game against the Wolverines this season, and capitalized for a 30-27 double overtime win. He ran for 125 yards and a score, and threw for 124 yards and an interception. Although he is just a two years removed from his injury, he said he tries not to dwell on it too often.
“I don’t go back to it often, if at all,” Barrett said prior to the Michigan game. “It’s one of those things, it happened, I grew from it, learned from it, got better from it, mentally more than anything. So I guess I don’t revisit that time.”
For both players, their roads to starting in the Fiesta Bowl have been different. However, both have the ultimate goal of bringing home the hardware to their respective school, but each has a different reason for wanting to win.
Watson has been the answer for Clemson since Tajh Boyd left for the NFL draft, but the 6-foot-3 signal caller has yet to win it all, or bring home college football’s biggest individual award. Although his long list of achievements is impressive — All-American, Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, first FBS player with 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season — the pressure to win it all still looms for Watson.
Barrett, hungry for a chance to finally have his time to shine and lead his team, was asked about his accomplishments on Sunday, including being named first team all-Big Ten and Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, and how they might affect his play against Clemson.
The low-voiced quarterback kept his same calm composure he’s known for when he answered, and gave an answer in his trademark blunt style.
“I guess I don’t really think about it like that,” he said. “I think my main thing is to go out there and play my best. I think my best is pretty good — puts us in a place to win games.”