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J.T. Barrett’s Buckeyes will never lower their expectations

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
J.T. Barrett

The year after winning a national championship, that’s when the expectations grow, that’s when the hype seems boundless, and no one expects anything less than perfection.

Ohio State felt it last year. The Buckeyes, coming off a national title in the first year of the College Football Playoff, basked in the warmth of the championship, and despite the pressure they put on themselves – and felt from the Buckeye faithful -- they nearly pulled off a repeat.

The Buckeyes finished 12-1 last season, their only loss to Michigan State, and bounced back with a dismantling of Michigan in the regular-season finale and a big win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

Things feel different this season for the Buckeyes, who saw 12 players taken in the 2016 NFL draft and have 44 players on the roster who have yet to take a college snap.

“I don’t feel the overwhelming expectations that were here a year ago,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said at Big Ten media days.

Meyer isn’t concerned about it, though, because the talent is there, just less experienced. He reminds that 2014 was a similar “template,” a lot of no-names who created a special outcome.

“I see that potential,” Meyer said, adding he believes his team, top to bottom, is as talented as he’s had at Ohio State.

Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, 15-2 as a starter, including 11-1 as a freshman in 2014 when he was named Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, is the key to the Ohio State offense. He has averaged 302 yards of total offense (220 passing, 82 rushing) and accounted for 58 touchdowns in those 17 games.

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He feels the same about this season as his coach and believes all the pieces are in place at Ohio State for another successful run at the Big Ten championship and beyond.

“I don’t think that it should be anything less,” Barrett said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. What are you going to tell Buckeye Nation? You going to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to probably be not as good. The Big Ten championship we always talk about? Yeah, this year we’re not going to get it.’ That’s not something you tell them. We’re not going to do that because one, that’s not fair to them, but two, we really believe that’s not how it’s about to go.

“Expectations stay the same around here. We’re not going to alter it because a couple guys left.”

Ohio State appeared on its way to another East Division title before being stunned by Michigan State in Columbus, despite the Spartans playing without starting quarterback Connor Cook.

The Buckeyes are considered by many to be the favorites in the Big Ten. Barrett was asked if the Buckeyes are being chased, or are they chasing.

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“Let’s be real. We’re Ohio State there’s always that target on our back whoever we’re playing or wherever we go,” he said. “So it’s not something that’s gonna change.

“Last year I think we were on the top of college football and we were trying to stay there, which is harder to do. Whereas like now, we might be the underdogs in some people’s eyes, which is perfectly fine, but know we’re going to continue to get better and focus on that week by week and that’s going to help us out in the long run.”

Ohio State travels to Oklahoma the third week of the season, and the Buckeyes will wait until the final two weeks of the season to play rivals Michigan State and Michigan.

Barrett is a big part of the reason why Ohio State is among the favorites to win the Big Ten. His experience gives them a reason not to panic going into Oklahoma, and being a veteran also will give the Buckeyes a good feeling when they host Michigan in the regular-season finale.

He is learning to harness his emotions to be a steadier leader, and that might be the difference for the Buckeyes this fall.

“Being older and understanding it does take so much to run a game, I do sometimes need to step back and relax,” Barrett said. “I try not to let stuff rattle me. I still get surprised. But as far as rattled, I don’t think it’s going to tear up my whole day.

“There’s a lot of things I feel like in the course of the game I’ve seen a lot. The stuff I haven’t seen I’m not going to be surprised. Probably going to figure it out pretty quickly. And put it in the memory bank and save it for later if I need it. But it’s not going to rattle me or mess up my day.”