COLUMBUS – Growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was so close to Oklahoma he almost could have ridden to the state line on his bike if he was feeling ambitious and there wasn’t a strong headwind to cut through.
Saturday night Barrett’s focus will be the goal line, not the state line, when he leads No. 3 Ohio State (2-0) against No. 14 Oklahoma (1-1) in a prime time match-up of teams with hopes of getting to the College Football Playoff.
While his heart was with Texas – he probably would have signed with the Longhorns if they’d offered – Barrett did watch some Oklahoma games while growing up and had a few recruiting conversations with their coaching staff.
“I remember watching them when I was in late elementary school and junior high when Sam Bradford was there and Adrian Peterson and even in high school when Landry Jones was there,” Barrett said earlier this week.
“I wasn’t connected to them as a fan. I did enjoy watching them play,” he said.
Wichita Falls, which is 17 miles from the Oklahoma border, has Texas fans, Oklahoma fans and lots of Texas Tech fans, Barrett said.
And what about Ohio State fans? “It’s getting that way. Nah,” he said with a laugh.
There might be a few more OSU fans in Wichita Falls if Ohio State goes into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and comes out with a win in a high profile nationally televised game.
Chances are good OSU winning that game will require Barrett to make plays with his arm and his feet.
But Barrett says he isn’t over-hyping the game or his role. “I don’t think it’s different than any other big games like the Big Ten games we have,” he said.
Plenty of other people probably will do that for him. Oklahoma, a College Football Playoff semifinalist last year, started the season ranked No. 3 before a 33-23 loss to Houston in its opener.
And the game has two marquee quarterbacks. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last fall, one spot above where Barrett was in that voting in 2014, his only full season as a starter.
Barrett passed for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns and rushed for 938 yards and 11 more TDs in 2014 before a broken ankle in the Michigan game ended his season.
His offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach was Tom Herman, who left to become Houston’s head coach last year.
Barrett said he and Herman still talk weekly, but their conversation this week might be a little more technical than usual.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me some Oklahoma things. But most of the time it’s just, ‘How are you doing?’ and life things, it’s not really about football,” he said.
Ohio State has won 18 consecutive games in opponents’ stadiums. Urban Meyer is 12-3 against Top 25 teams as OSU’s coach. And the Buckeyes finished last season with wins over Michigan and Notre Dame in their most recent big-game wins after a crushing loss to Michigan State in their next-to-last regular-season game.
Ohio State began the week as a 2.5 point favorite over the Sooners, reportedly the first time Oklahoma has been an underdog at home since a 2000 game against Nebraska.
It’s probably too close to call. Some people would say luck might play a role, but Barrett isn’t among them.
“In high school, I had a pair of lucky socks and thought it was the key to my success,” he said, with a laugh. “Now, understanding Coach Meyer’s approach, it makes a lot of sense that it doesn’t matter what socks you wear. Of if you have lucky drawers. It doesn’t really matter. You’re prepared.
“It means so much to me because playing in these (big games) the last two years, the most prepared team wins. There’s nothing luck has to do with it. Do you have fortunate things happen off bad plays, like (former tailback) Ezekiel Elliott breaking a lot of tackles last year? Those things happen. That’s not luck. That’s being prepared and part of our workouts. I would say when we come into big games, we have that approach, and it does well for us.”