When Urban Meyer is often asked about topics such as the national championship race or the Heisman, he often demurs until he has the proper information.
He’s been hesitant to endorse Braxton Miller for the stiff-arm trophy in the past until he was fully ready, and even today he wasn’t sure his team is good enough to be in the College Football Playoff final four until he sees the rest of the squads around the country.
But when asked about J.T. Barrett and the Heisman race 10 games into the season, Meyer knew his answer.
“I don't know if my endorsement matters,” the Ohio State head coach said, “but I have been fortunate to coach some guys that have been in New York, and he's a Heisman candidate.”
Just like Meyer knows championships teams – he’s coached two – he knows what it takes to win college football’s biggest honor. In his last nine years as a head coach, he’s had five quarterbacks finish in the top five in the voting for the trophy, including Miller in 2012, Alex Smith in Utah in 2004 and, of course, Tim Tebow. A three-time top-five finisher, Tebow won the award in 2007 at Florida when he accounted for 55 touchdowns – 32 passing and 23 rushing.
Barrett won’t quite get to those numbers this year before the trophy is awarded since he has just three games left, but he does have a chance to get in the ballpark. He passed Miller’s school record of 36 touchdowns accounted for last week with four more TDs (three passing, one rushing) to get to 38 on the year – 29 passing, nine rushing.
The running touchdown also helped rewrite the OSU record book in more ways than one. The 86-yard counter run in which Barrett outraced the entire Minnesota defense to the end zone was the longest run for a QB in school history and it allowed Barrett to get to 189 yards rushing on the day, another Ohio State record he took away from Miller.
Miller finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 2012, but Barrett has the chance to finish even higher this year thanks to 2,356 passing yards and 771 rushing yards for a total of 312.7 yards per game, a mark that is 15th in the nation per game.
“He’s a very, very good player,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said after Satuday’s game. “Braxton Miller is a great player – I’ve said he’s one of the better ones in the country if he wasn’t the best – and this kid is every bit of that and more because of his ability to throw the football.”
Meyer said Barrett is a candidate, but can he win it? That might be tough. Melvin Gordon might have shortened the distance from Madison to New York City to 408 yards, the FBS record he accumulated in Wisconsin’s thorough smashing of Nebraska to take control of the Big Ten West Division on Saturday. With 190.9 yards per game – more than 23 yards ahead of the next best rusher in the FBS – and a nation’s best 23 rushing TDs, Gordon is all but assured of a trip to New York City.
And if you’re looking for a quarterback who can compete with Barrett, there’s Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the only Power 5 quarterback with a better passing efficiency in the nation than Barrett. Mariota has thrown for 2,780 yards in 10 games as well as 29 touchdowns and just two interceptions while leading Oregon to a 9-1 record. The two are tied for No. 1 in the nation having produced 38 touchdowns in 10 games.
Where can Barrett go from here? He admitted his 389-yard, four-TD performance at Minnesota wasn’t his best – “J.T. is a Heisman candidate that knows that he could have played much better Saturday,” Meyer said – and he’ll have chances vs. Indiana, Michigan and in the Big Ten title game with one more win to add to that total.
At his current pace, Barrett will end with 38 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing scores, numbers that would shatter just about every OSU record and put him in the discussion with Tebow. Just 15 players before this season have accounted for 50 touchdowns in a season, including Heisman winners Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford (55, 2008) and Auburn’s Cam Newton (50, 2010).
Barrett would also easily clear the two redshirt freshmen to win the awards the last two years as well. Jameis Winston of Florida State had 44 total touchdowns last year while throwing for 4,057 yards, while Johnny Manziel had 47 TDs while rushing for 1,410 yards and tossing for 3,706 in 2012 for Texas A&M.
Would it be enough to win it all? Again, it would be difficult. But at the end of the day, Barrett’s performance this year has been nothing short of incredible.
“It’s amazing how he’s grown and how mature he is for his age and experience,” co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “His level of play is high and so we have a lot of confidence in him. We’re not afraid to do things that maybe might say would be a little bit risky with him because he is such a smart player and takes care of the football well. Every once in a while, he’s human and he’ll make mistakes, but he’s playing at a tremendous level for us.”