Who is the B1G's Offensive Player of the Decade?
The B1G had a heck of a decade.
Urban Meyer’s arrival pushed Ohio State to the top of college football’s mountain, further pausing the SEC’s dynasty in the process.
The league didn’t produce a Heisman Trophy winner in the 2010s, but it did have a top 5 vote-getter in 7 of the 10 seasons. That included 2019, when Justin Fields, Chase Young, Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins finished 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively.
In 2020, Fields is a favorite to end the B1G’s Heisman drought.
But before we kick off this season, let’s put a cap on the decade that was and crown the B1G’s Offensive Player of the 2010s.
Who is that? Well, that’s a topic we’ve been discussing all offseason.
Ryan O’Gara, Saturday Tradition columnist
Let’s do a blind résumé.
Player A: 656 rushes, 3,263 yards and 43 TDs
Player B: 671 rushes, 3,843 yards and 43 TDs
Player A is J.T. Barrett. Player B is Saquon Barkley. That’s how good Barrett was for Ohio State — his rushing production nearly matches 1 of the conference’s most explosive players of the decade. And Barrett, obviously, isn’t a running back. He was a prolific passer who holds Big Ten records for touchdown passes (104), total touchdowns (147) and total offensive yards (12,697).
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Don’t let the fact that Barrett missed out on playing the final games of the national championship run in 2014 take away from the fact that Ohio State never wins it without him getting them there in the first place. When starting QB Braxton Miller got hurt in the preseason, Barrett was thrust into the spotlight during his redshirt freshman campaign. After a shaky start to the season that included an upset loss to Virginia Tech, Barrett threw 31 touchdown passes against 6 interceptions in the final 10 games.
Barrett battled adversity afterward, like the QB competition the next season with Cardale Jones, as well as several off-field issues. The lofty numbers from QBs like Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields after him may take some of the shine away, too. And the fact that Ohio State was never able to win a title in his final 3 seasons despite incredibly talented rosters was mildly disappointing. But Barrett is still as accomplished statistically as any QB in Big Ten history, and thus, he is my Big Ten Offensive Player of the Decade.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
I know the default answer is to say Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett, but give me Saquon Barkley above the rest. Barkley was a 2-time B1G Offensive Player of the Year, and both of those were for Penn State teams that were in the national title hunt. Whether it was hurdling dudes from the 5-yard line or making an entire defense miss like he did in the Rose Bowl, Barkley redefined what athleticism was in the B1G.
No player was more electric, and that includes Miller, Barrett or even Ezekiel Elliott. We’re talking about someone who had over 5,000 scrimmage yards in his incredibly prolific 3-year Penn State career. He caught passes, he returned kicks and he showed up on the big stage (not enough is made of him catching over 100 passes out of the backfield). To me, that’s what separates him from someone like Jonathan Taylor, who is also worthy of being in this discussion, but didn’t show quite the same level of versatility (Taylor also had far better blocking than Barkley did). Even if the numbers show that Taylor, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah were more productive players in their careers, tell me who you would’ve rather gone back and started your team with.
I’m not sure when the next Barkley will come through the B1G. Even if he didn’t light up the record books, he made an impression that’ll last decades.
Dustin Schutte, Saturday Tradition managing editor
Not many quarterbacks in B1G history are as decorated as Barrett. His statistics were ridiculous enough to place him in this conversation, throwing for 9,434 yards and rushing for an additional 3,263 yards and accounting for 147 total touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t the reason Barrett is my selection, though.
Barrett was essentially Ohio State’s version of Tim Tebow from 2014-17. He stepped in as a redshirt freshman and immediately helped lead the Buckeyes to their only national championship under Urban Meyer in 2014. While Barrett was never able to help Ohio State return to college football’s mountaintop again, he was still 38-6 as a starter, won a pair of B1G titles and was a three-time B1G Quarterback of the Year and First-Team All-B1G selection. As he demonstrated multiple times throughout his career, Barrett was just a winner.
If you need examples of Barrett’s perseverance, check out his performance on the road against Michigan State in 2014. Look up “The Spot” play in Ohio State’s 2016 victory over Michigan. Or you can check out highlights from a massive comeback victory over Penn State in 2017. There are plenty of other options to choose from during his career in Columbus.
I know Barrett struggled to stretch the field as a passer and often Meyer relied on the quarterback’s running ability more than was probably appreciated. But Barrett owned 25 school records by the time he left Ohio State, broke the B1G’s career passing touchdown record (104), the total touchdown record (147) and offensive yardage record (12,697). If you had to pick one B1G quarterback from the past decade to win one football game, it’s hard not to pick Barrett.
Chris Wright, Saturday Tradition executive editor
It’s hard to argue against Barrett, though it is worth noting that 3rd-stringer Cardale Jones QB-ed the Buckeyes to the 2014 national championship and won the starting job the following season. That decision looks odder every year. It’s also worth noting that Braxton Miller put up huge numbers, too, as an OSU QB. And that Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields threw for more TDs in a season than Barrett did.
Point being, Urban Meyer always put his QBs in position to make plays. And Ryan Day obviously is doing the same. Whoever lines up behind center for the Buckeyes is going to put up huge numbers, which is why Fields is a Heisman favorite.
So I’m going to look elsewhere for the B1G’s OPD.
Saquon Barkley was spectacular and another logical candidate, but 10 other B1G running backs gained more yards in the decade. Twenty-two averaged more yards per carry, and 4 ran for more TDs.
At the top of the rushing list is somehow-overlooked Jonathan Taylor with 6,174 yards. Taylor also was a top-10 vote-getter for the Heisman for 3 consecutive years. Barrett and Barkley managed that once.
SEC fans get excited when a running back records 3 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. It’s rare. Taylor was a missed tackle from recording 3 consecutive 2,000-yard seasons. That’s ridiculous. Taylor has 3 of the top 11 individual rushing seasons in B1G history.
Taylor’s career total ranks 6th all-time in the sport’s history. All 5 RBs ahead of him played 4 years, had more carries but averaged fewer yards. Taylor averaged 6.7 yards per carry — almost a full yard more than Ron Dayne, the fellow Badger and only RB to top 7,000 career yards.
For 3 years, Taylor was a one-man show. And this is an individual award.
Consider this: Wisconsin only had 1 other skill player drafted during Taylor’s tenure: Wide receiver Quintez Cephus went in the 5th round. Barrett played with 7 skill-position teammates who were drafted and was protected by 3 linemen taken earlier than anybody who blocked for Taylor.
Ultimately, my choice for B1G Offensive Player of the Decade comes down to this:
Barrett had help.
Wisconsin had Taylor.