If you thought that 2013 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2014 once again proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, homecomings and award winners. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last six years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the ten biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
Three losses. Maybe more.
That’s what I said on August 18, upon hearing the news that Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller was injured and out for the season.
The Buckeyes had lost Carlos Hyde to the draft. They lost back-up sensation Kenny Guiton to graduation. Now they were losing their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback to a shoulder injury.
The silver lining — if there was such a thing — was that J.T. Barrett (who had leapfrogged Cardale Jones on the depth chart in the spring) had taken the majority of the first-team snaps all off-season because Miller was recovering from the shoulder surgery he had at the end of last year.
The performance against Virginia Tech in the second week of the season made me think that I had set the over-under for losses too low. Barrett looked like a red-shirt freshman against the Hokies. He completed just 9-of-29 passes and threw three interceptions. The last one was a pick-six in the final moments with Ohio State trailing by one score.
And then something amazing happened. The Buckeyes rallied around their young quarterback.
Starting with a 66-0 beat down of Kent State in week three, the Buckeyes scored 50 points or more in four straight games. It was the first time an Ohio State team had scored 50 or more in four straight since—well ever. The offensive line was coming together, and Barrett threw for 1,170 yards and 17 touchdowns in the four-game stretch.
Then came the game I started to believe in J.T. Barrett.
On the road against Penn State, facing a loud and lively crowd for the first time in his career Barrett and the explosive Buckeye offense sputtered. A 17-0 halftime lead was erased and the Buckeyes found themselves tied with Penn State after a 31-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with seconds to go in regulation. Barrett had been banged up during regulation. The passing game wasn’t working. So Barrett took the game over in overtime with his legs. He ran for both Ohio State’s scores in the double overtime win. More than that though, he put the team on his shoulders and refused to lose.
The Penn State game did not look on paper to be a “good win”, at least not in the eyes of the Playoff Committee, but it was the game that Barrett proved he was the leader of the team.
Fast forward through the rest of the regular season. Wins against Michigan State and Minnesota highlighted Barrett’s season heading into Michigan week. Three more touchdowns for Barrett in the rivalry tilt gave Barrett 45 total for the year.
And then everything came crashing to a halt when Barrett fractured his ankle in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes would ride the legs of Ezekiel Elliott the rest of the game, but would have to insert yet another quarterback into the starting mix in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin.
This is where the story gets really interesting.
After losing Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller two weeks before the season began, and Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett the week before, all Cardale Jones and the Buckeyes did was destroy the favored Badgers. It is still one of those games that doesn’t make any sense. It may have been the most dominating performance in a championship game, conference or otherwise.
Cardale Jones — the quarterback who slid from second to third on the depth chart during the spring — made his first start and led the offense to 52 points, with a defensive touchdown thrown in for a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin. Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns. All three touchdowns were 39 yards or longer. The win was impressive enough for Ohio State to make their way into the College Football Playoff. They take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
So here’s the question: Do the Buckeyes have three Heisman Trophy level quarterbacks on the roster, or is the offense of Urban Meyer and Tom Herman so dynamic that they plug in the next quarterback and success follows?
We may find out. Alabama will be favored and will be a stiff test for the Buckeyes. Tom Herman has reportedly agreed to become Houston’s next head coach. Will that prove to be a distraction for his preparation against Saban’s defense?