We're picking up this week where we left off two weeks ago with a discussion of the best players at each position in the Big Ten. Next up are the quarterbacks:
Josh Moyer: Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett
First off, can we just agree there's no real wrong answer here? The fact you can legitimately argue three or four guys as the Big Ten’s top quarterback speaks to the strength of the position. I don't think we've ever had such a muddled situation before, and I don't know if we'll ever see it again.
That all being said, I'm giving the slight edge to Barrett. In less than 12 full games, he trumped Connor Cook of Michigan State in almost every statistical category: Completion percentage (64.6 percent to 58.1 percent), yards per attempt (9 to 8.8), passing touchdowns (34 to 24), rushing touchdowns (11 to two), QB rating (169.8 to 149.4), winning percentage, etc.
I think Cardale Jones' performance in the Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff might've given everyone a dose of tunnel vision because we forget just how dominant Barrett was. He was a Heisman candidate -- who still finished fifth in the voting -- and broke Drew Brees' conference record of 42 TDs that was on the books since 1998. If Barrett remained healthy, he easily would've gone over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, something achieved by only two other QBs in the Power Five (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Texas' Vince Young). Overall, he still tied or set 17 school and conference records.
Two more eye-opening facts: He had 148 more total yards and seven more total TDs than Jameis Winston had after 12 games in 2013. And he boasted two more total TDs than Manziel had after 12 games in 2012. In other words, when it comes to Cook and Barrett, there's no doubt whatsoever who had the better season. Stats certainly aren't everything, but they're an indicator of just how much Barrett dominated.
Maybe he's not a better NFL prospect than Cook. But he's a more accurate passer, a more mobile runner, and he just finds a way to win. He was 4-0 against nationally ranked defenses, toughed out a sprained MCL in a 31-24 overtime victory against Penn State and is the one who got the Buckeyes into the national title conversation to begin with. Cook can't say the same.
So, as full as the Big Ten is with great quarterbacks, it's still a pretty easy decision for me. I'm sticking with Barrett.
Mitch Sherman: Michigan State’s Connor Cook
I’ll agree, Josh, that there’s no wrong answer here in July as the Buckeyes bring three quarterbacks to the table. Nine weeks from now, though, if Barrett is sitting the bench, I think a good case can be made that your answer is not the best.
If pressed to pick one of the Ohio State trio, I’d go with Braxton Miller. He made his mark over the long haul, twice earning Big Ten offensive player of the year. That’s not to say I believe Miller will win the starting job in Columbus. My pick is Jones – but not as the best QB in the league.
For that, I’m going with Cook, who – like Miller – has proven his status over multiple seasons. Barrett has yet to play in a postseason game. He’s yet to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. He’s yet to play through a series of nagging injuries or shoulder the burden of losing a key complementary player.
And though it’s no fault of his, Barrett's ride most of last season after the Virginia Tech debacle resembled more of a fantasy tale than a football season. The talent around him was not exactly normal.
Football is tough and rugged and difficult. I judge QBs on more than stats. The challenge of playing the position is equal parts mentally and physically taxing. No QB nationally has met that challenge as well as Cook over the past two seasons in leading Michigan State to consecutive top-five finishes.
He has been the MVP of a Big Ten championship game and a Rose Bowl. Cook came off the bench to lead a game-winning drive in 2012 against TCU, the first of three straight fourth-quarter, Cook-led MSU comebacks in bowl games.
And if you want stats, he led the Big Ten in passing yardage last season, has thrown for more than 6,000 yards in his career and owns a 23-3 record as a starter.
While OSU boasts three quarterbacks with outstanding traits, all worthy of this discussion, MSU needs just one to win the argument in my book.