DALLAS — J.T. Barrett began to walk to the locker room after Ohio State beat USC in the Cotton Bowl 24-7 and handed his gloves off to a young fan just above. Before he made it the rest of the way in the tunnel, some players called him back to the field so he could sing “Carmen Ohio” one last time.
He just wanted to fast-forward to the official end of his career.
When it was finally time for him to head into that locker room, he left with his legacy, four years in the making.
He started off his career as an injury replacement to Braxton Miller, considered one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. Barrett put together a standout redshirt freshman campaign, was injured in the final game of that regular season, lost the starting job in 2015 only to reclaim it later in the year and never looked back the rest of his career despite persistent calls for replacement.
Barrett’s legacy is one of major accomplishments and missed opportunity. He has often been criticized by the fanbase for having his worst games in the worst situations. But what he has done at the helm of Ohio State is compile a list of accolades and numbers that will be challenging for any quarterback to follow.
The first three-time captain in school history. The holder of more Big Ten and Ohio State records than any quarterback in program history. The only quarterback with a 4-0 record against Michigan. A Big Ten Championship, two bowl wins and an asterisk by a national championship.
As he has for nearly every game this season, Barrett set two more records in the Cotton Bowl: one surpassing his own program record of total touchdowns responsible for in a season and another surpassing former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees for total yardage in a Big Ten career.
“I mean, since I was little, I looked up to Drew Brees,” Barrett said after the game. “To be able to pass a record like that, just very grateful the people that were around me, coaches that have been part of my journey, O-line, receivers, tight end, running backs, receivers, everybody that helped me achieve that.”
To surpass one of the best quarterbacks the Big Ten has ever produced and a future NFL Hall-of-Famer would seem to warrant more attention. Barrett has more passing touchdowns, total yards and touchdowns responsible for than Brees.
Yet his legacy is far from spotless. Though he led the team during the 2014 regular season, it was his backup Cardale Jones who was under center for the wins in the 2014 Big Ten championship game and the national championship.
He has several key losses throughout his career. He lost to Michigan State in 2015 that prevented the Buckeyes from returning to the College Football Playoff. He was shut out by Clemson in 2016 in Barrett’s lone playoff appearance. And a 55-24 blowout loss to Iowa in 2017 proved a key factor in the Buckeyes’ omission from the playoff.
Even in the Cotton Bowl, Barrett was far from perfect. He completed 11-of-17 passes for 114 yards and rushed 16 times for 66 yards and scored twice on the ground.
Still, it is challenging to judge his career by a small sample size. He lost just six games in a career spanning four years and 45 starts.
And it is not like he never won big games. In 2014, Barrett beat then-No. 7 Michigan State, 49-37, in a game that essentially clinched the Big Ten East title. He took the Buckeyes into Norman, Oklahoma, and throttled then-No. 5 Oklahoma in 2016. He later grabbed two overtime victories later that year against then-No. 8 Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, and then-No. 3 Michigan in Columbus.
In 2017, he led the Buckeyes to a dramatic come-from-behind 39-38 victory against then-No. 2 Penn State, stomped No. 13 Michigan State 48-3 and won the Big Ten 27-21 in the championship game against No. 4 Wisconsin.
Barrett has big wins in his career. He has the stats to make a case for one of the best statistical college quarterbacks to play the game. He was considered the consummate leader in the locker room according to his coaches and teammates and stayed out of trouble — with one exception — during his career.
His teammates and coaches will remember Barrett the leader. Many fans will remember Barrett the starter for a seemingly endless amount of time who failed to come through with wins in pivotal games. Others will remember Barrett as one of the greatest quarterbacks to don the Scarlet and Gray. That young fan might just remember Barrett for that time in Dallas he gave him his playing gloves after his final game as a Buckeye.
Barrett has never cared what others thought of how he played. His focus was always on his team. Now he’s onto the next chapter of his life, leaving behind a confetti-filled field in Dallas and a legacy that might be the subject of debate throughout the Ohio State fanbase.
But none of that matters to Barrett. He’s just ready for it all to end.