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J.T. Barrett, Buckeyes prove they belong on national stage in win over Michigan State

Ohio State was supposed to be dead to rights, its College Football Playoff hopes dead along with the injured shoulder of star quarterback Braxton Miller. It was hard to argue that point after a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, especially with the way Miller’s replacement, J.T. Barrett played.

Seven games later though, and Barrett and the Buckeyes are squarely in the playoff picture thanks to an emphatic win at Michigan State on Saturday. Ohio State’s 49-37 win over No. 8 Michigan State stunned those on the ESPN College GameDay set and those in the national media.

After all, Ohio State was supposed to be dead. No Braxton Miller, no chance.

Instead, his replacement has gone from scapegoat for OSU’s Week 2 loss to stud quarterback. Barrett came up no bigger than Saturday’s performance, putting his team on his back and refusing to lose.

It was the freshman, not the senior, leading the Buckeyes to their first win over a Top 10 team under Urban Meyer. OSU also won its first game against a Top 10 team since its historic win over No. 2 Michigan to end the 2006 season.

Yes, that’s right, the guy who looked so terrible people left the Buckeyes for dead in Week 2, just put his team in the annuals of Ohio State football history.

Barrett put together five total touchdowns on Saturday, going 16-of-26 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He added 86 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries as well.

The two teams traded touchdowns through the first quarter-plus, with Barrett scoring back-to-back rushing touchdowns to make the score 14-14 early in the second quarter. It was that quarter that sparked the Buckeyes passing game, as Barrett connected on a crazy 79-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to make it 21-14 and then hit star receiver Devin Smith for a 44-yard TD to make it 28-21 going in to the half.

While it may be easy to dismiss Barrett’s completion percentage on Saturday, it’s hard to ignore this — he’s on pace to top what Braxton Miller did in an all-time great season last year.

To date, Barrett has thrown 26 touchdown passes in nine games, adding eight rushing touchdowns to the effort as well. Miller had just 24 touchdown passes and 12 rushing touchdowns all of last season.

As for yardage? Barrett has 2,738 total yards through nine games, while Miller finished with 3,162 total yards last season. It all adds up to a freshman quarterback who just made a huge case for the Big Ten’s Player of the Year award, let alone Freshman of the Year.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi had nothing but praise for him following his team’s loss.

“That guy made about every shot he could,” Narduzzi said. “He threw the seven route on target. He hadn’t shown he could do that really consistently. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a great football player, and he played big in a big game. He didn’t throw off the mark at all. He put it right there where their guys were about to make the catches. He’s a heck of a quarterback.”

On Saturday, the beauty of Ohio State’s victory was that Barrett got some big help from sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who topped the rushing charts with 153 yards and two touchdowns of his own.

Looking back at this team’s performance on Saturday, it’s hard to believe that was the same team and the same quarterback that took the field against Virginia Tech.

OSU offensive lineman Taylor Decker, one of the Buckeyes biggest difference makers on Saturday and throughout the season put it best following the win.

“We can’t control who’s on our schedule or what conference we’re in,” said Decker. “And people are down on us just because of the teams that we have played. And even though we’ve won impressively, they’ve still always been skeptical. So to go out there and show what we’re capable of against a really good opponent, it was a great feeling.

“And I think that’s what made this win so special.”

Now the question is, does the selection committee buy what the Buckeyes sold them on the field on Saturday. The team that went toe-to-toe with the Spartans in East Lansing sure made a heck of a case, and OSU has Barrett to thank for that.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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