J.T. Barrett, standing shoulder to shoulder in the Ohio State record book with Tippy Dye and Troy Smith in one important category, could rise above them Saturday.

Barrett has a chance to become the first Ohio State starting quarterback to beat Michigan four times.

“I think it’s cool, as long we win the game,” Barrett said.

Uh, OK. He obviously was taking nothing for granted this week as he prepared for his final appearance in The Game. He’s guiding a team that is still in the running for a College Football Playoff spot and next week will play Wisconsin in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship, regardless of the outcome Saturday.

Plus, he knows that opportunity as well as his pluck are the reasons he’s in position to gain such a niche in team history. Dye was a just a three-year starter when he quarterbacked three straight wins from 1934 to '36 under coach Francis Schmidt. Smith didn’t become the starter until midway through his sophomore year in 2004 under coach Jim Tressel.

Smith went on to beat Michigan the next two years, with spectacular play at Ann Arbor in 2005 and in Ohio Stadium in 2006. The latter victory catapulted Smith to a runaway win in the Heisman Trophy race. But like Dye, he never got a fourth shot at the Wolverines.

“In this day and age of coaches now giving younger players the chance to grind out and do their thing, it’s not shocking,” Smith told The Dispatch of Barrett’s chance at a fourth. “When it was more run of the mill for you to have to wait your turn, and there was a guy who was the incumbent starter in front of you, you had to kind of sit back and be molded.

“But this is a credit to who J.T. Barrett is, what type of person he is on and off the field. I think that only special things happen to great people and we are witnessing that right in front of our eyes.”

Barrett gained a practice-field promotion to starter as a redshirt freshman in preseason camp of 2014 when Braxton Miller suffered a shoulder injury. After a shaky beginning, Barrett went on to flourish that season, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record.

He then suffered a broken ankle on the first play of the fourth quarter against Michigan, handing the reins to Cardale Jones with the Buckeyes ahead 28-21. It was more Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line that cemented the win from there, but Jones wound up leading the team to three postseason wins and the national title.

Barrett had to compete to get the starting job back by midseason of 2015, then led the Buckeyes to a lopsided win at Michigan. Last season, he roused the offense late at Ohio Stadium, running more than he passed, to help the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines in two overtimes and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Now Barrett is pursuing win No. 4 as a starter.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” coach Urban Meyer said. “And I think this is going to be a critical game for his career.”

That was an interesting comment, considering the myriad Big Ten and Ohio State records for quarterback play that Barrett owns. But the jury still seems to be out with many on just where Barrett fits in the pantheon at OSU. Despite being a major factor on a national title team, critics insist that title belonged more to Jones, even though the next season Jones could not hang on to the starting job.

Barrett pointed out recently, though, he has a championship ring from that season he doesn’t plan on giving back.

“I mean, my ankle was broken,” he deadpanned. “I couldn’t play.”

He had the mishap against Michigan to thank for that. But his successes against the Wolverines and those records he has amassed along with the wins are not to be diminished, said Eddie George, the Buckeyes’ 1995 Heisman Trophy-winning running back.

“I would certainly have to put him as one of the great players to play at Ohio State,” George said. “Looking at all of the things he has accomplished — he’s played, what four years? It seems like he’s been there since I was there.

“But seriously, his leadership, and what he’s been able to accomplish there not just statistically, but the wins he’s been able to conjure up, you’d have to put him somewhere in the top 10, top five, if that makes sense.”

As for Barrett’s success in the rivalry game, Jim Garfield, his former coach at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, is not surprised.

“From knowing him as long as I have, from middle school through high school and now in college, he understands the focus he has to have in moments like this,” Garfield said this week. “He’ll be pretty juiced up, there’s no doubt about it, just like everybody else, but he knows he’s also the starting quarterback so he has to keep a level playing field in his mind as far as what has to happen each play.

“He understands the importance of it, but he also understands there are a lot of young men around him and a coaching staff depending on him to go out and do the job.”

Like in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes last year, Barrett stepped up his game though for 3½ quarters that the offense had not played well.

“His leadership skills took another step forward,” said Garfield, who watched every play. “Whenever it’s a tight situation, when something needs to be done, he accepts that responsibility. That’s what I think really separates him from every other quarterback in the country. He handles the pressure very well. He wants that moment.”

 

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports