DALLAS — The moment the clock ticked down to zero, J.T. Barrett’s storied career came to a close.
For the first time in more than fours years, Barrett will not line up behind center and take snaps for Ohio State in 2018. After nearly 10,000 passing yards, more than 100 passing touchdowns, 3,000 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns, his career is over.
But for Ohio State, most importantly, the final seconds running off the clock meant the battle to become Barrett’s successor officially began. For the next few months, redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow, redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins and freshman Tate Martell will engage in a high-profile competition to earn the opening-day snaps Sept. 1 against Oregon State.
After subbing in for Barrett after the starter suffered a knee injury while trailing in the third quarter against Michigan and leading his team to victory, Haskins will likely hold an edge entering spring practice.
“The poise that I had to come in there like that,” Haskins said after his team’s 24-7 win against USC in the Cotton Bowl. “I wasn’t expecting to get in that game. And then having to do what I had to do to get the win and help the team out, I thought it was pretty mature for me to go do that.”
Given the experience, Haskins said he will attack the offseason as if he is the starter.
“I don’t quite know what the coaches are saying and stuff like that, but the mentality is going forward, ‘Dwayne, [you] got to go be the guy,’” Haskins said.
The self-described “very elite passer” possesses the strongest arm of the trio. He effortlessly launches the ball with his cannon-like arm to receivers downfield. He offers the Buckeyes an option unlike quarterbacks who usually play in head coach Urban Meyer’s offenses. Rather than a prototypical dual-threat, Haskins succeeds best when he can operate in the pocket.
One of the most dialed-up plays for Ohio State with Barrett was the designed quarterback run. Though Haskins has shown the ability to scramble when pressured, he does not offer a similar threat to Barrett on run-pass options or designed runs, an area in which he knows he must show he can execute in the spring’s competition.
“I can make a lot of throws and do things that not everybody can do,” Haskins said. “For me, it’s just not only showing I can throw the ball, but be a leader, run the ball, make calls, make checks and stuff like that.”
On the other side of the quarterback spectrum, Martell makes his largest impact in the run game. He was praised multiple times this season for his elusiveness, which led to him playing nearly every offensive skill position, including running back and wide receiver, on the scout team. He said he expects to have a role in the offense next year, even if it is not at the quarterback position.
The ultra-competitive former four-star prospect, who posted ridiculous passing numbers at arguably the biggest prep school in the nation, entered his freshman season with the intention of competing for the starting quarterback spot with Barrett. Martell said he endured struggles in the first few months at Ohio State. Eventually, near the beginning of the season, he “bought in to what the coaches were talking about.”
“It changed me as a person and it changed me as a player and made a much better player than I was when I came in here,” Martell said. “Now, I feel like, when my time comes and I get a time to go show what I can do, I’ll be ready to go.”
Martell will not only have to beat out Haskins, but also Burrow, who backed up Barrett in 2016 and was second-string this season before suffering a hand injury that required surgery. He is the dark horse to become the starter, for he does not have similar hype to Haskins — the strong-armed pocket passer — or Martell, a former highly rated recruit.
Since he plans to graduate in the spring and, thus, be eligible to graduate transfer to another school and not required to sit out a year, he seems to be an possibility to transfer.
Head coach Urban Meyer understands the quarterback-starting quandary, but emphasized the need for depth at the position.
“I really respect all three players, and that’s the kind of depth that you need,” Meyer said. “We saw what happened several years ago when some third-string quarterback jumped in there and did pretty good for those final three games.”
No team understands the importance of quarterback depth quite like Ohio State. In 2014, it rode third-string quarterback Cardale Jones to a national championship after Braxton Miller’s preseason injury and Barrett’s injury in the final game of the regular season.
Haskins, Martell and Burrow are the only three returning quarterbacks on the roster. Matthew Baldwin, a three-star recruit, will join the team in the spring, but he recently suffered an injury in the high school football playoffs and reaggravated it in the state championship game. If Burrow, Haskins or Martell were to transfer, the Buckeyes would be down to two quarterbacks with at least a year of experience and one true freshman.
With a starting quarterback a long time from being named, though, no one is interested in discussing possible transfer plans.
“I’m just going to attack it as I’m the guy, I’m the starter and it starts tomorrow, today,” Haskins said. “The mentality that I’m [going to] lead the team, just how J.T. did it. Just do it in my own way, but not like how he did it.”
But Haskins is not the only one ready for the opportunity.
“I mean, what else would I want,” Martell said. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench.”