COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) J.T. Barrett was beaten out by Cardale Jones last year in one of the most intriguing training-camp quarterback races in the nation. Now, he is Ohio State's undisputed starter and leader of a team that's reloading after the departure of 16 starters.
Barrett's value to the team can't be overstated. The Buckeyes' fortunes likely will ride on the 21-year-old Texan's ability to recapture some of the magic from the 2014 national championship season.
With a freshman likely starting at tailback - no more Ezekiel Elliott to carry the offensive load - and a stable of unproven wide receivers, the Buckeyes will look to Barrett for guidance and big plays. He's a junior, but on this team he's one of the veterans. He's been chosen a captain for the second straight season.
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''Last year we had a lot more older guys, of course, and this year I'm trying to help the younger guys get into our standard of how we play here at Ohio State,'' Barrett said, ''and make sure that they understand we don't have rebuilding years. The expectations are not going to change because you all don't have experience.''
As a freshman, Barrett stepped up when Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder in training camp. He led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record before breaking his leg in the last regular season game against Michigan. Jones returned and Ohio State won its next three games and the national title.
Last season was unsteady for Barrett. He and Jones battled for the starting job in training camp. Jones won, only to have Barrett replace him in the eighth game. Just after regaining the starting job, Barrett was suspended for a game after an arrest for driving under the influence.
The Buckeyes stumbled against Michigan State for their only loss but rebounded with wins at Michigan and in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame to finish 12-1 and ranked No. 4 in the nation. Barrett completed 19 of 31 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns and 96 yards rushing in the 44-28 win over the Fighting Irish.
''He did not have a great training camp last year, for whatever reason,'' coach Urban Meyer said. ''There was a lot of distraction with Cardale and with who's going to play quarterback, and he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal, so he didn't have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year, and I anticipate he'll be as good a quarterback as we've had, because it's his show - he knows it and he's prepared.''
Barrett is 15-2 as Ohio State's starter, with a completion percentage of 64.2. He's averaged more than 220 yards per game passing and 82 yards rushing in his 17 starts and has accounted for 58 touchdowns.
''Whether you had a veteran team or a young team, to have a J.T. Barrett, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, somebody you trust, you respect and is a great leader - that's where it all starts,'' said Ed Warinner, Ohio State's co-offensive coordinator. ''When you've got Pat Elflein at center and J.T. Barrett, that's a great starting point.''
Without Elliott, a first-round NFL draft pick, the Buckeyes are going to need a sharp passing game and a go-to receiver who can get open and catch the deep ball. The two projected starters at the wide receiver spots - Noah Brown and Corey Smith - got some playing time in 2014 but both are returning from leg injuries that sidelined them last season. H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson - both also coming off injuries - have shown they can be dependable targets, but the rest of the guys are unproven.
''Talent, speed and athleticism will not be an issue,'' Meyer said. ''It's how they perform. That's where J.T. is going to be so critical, because you're going to see a lot of wide eyes. A lot of those guys have not played.''
Barrett's backup - and 2014 taught Ohio State coaches how important backups are - appears to be redshirt freshman Joe Burrow, although freshman Dwayne Haskins, a four-star prospect that Meyer has raved about, could push him.
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For some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mitch-stacy