In 2004, a redshirt-sophomore quarterback from Cleveland made just his fifth career start against the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines in Ohio Stadium.
Before that game, not many people knew who Troy Smith was, but after defeating the highly ranked Wolverines, 37-21, in The Game, Smith became a legend in Columbus.
Smith, who is set to have his No. 10 honored at halftime of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan matchup, said he did not know right away what that game in 2004 meant to him or the OSU faithful.
“You don’t really understand the magnitude of the game until years and years after,” Smith said Monday. “Until you hit the field, and you feel that there are really hundreds of thousands of people watching you, watching your every single move, you really don’t have an understanding. It is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”
Smith went on to defeat Michigan in 2005 and 2006, the latter being arguably the biggest game in the rivalry’s history as the Buckeyes and Wolverines met in Ohio Stadium as No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, respectively.
OSU won that 2006 game, 42-39, making Smith just the second OSU quarterback ever to go 3-0 against Michigan, joining Tippy Dye who completed the feat from 1934-36.
Fast forward to 2014. Another OSU quarterback is set to make his first start against the Michigan Wolverines, albeit on a slightly different scale.
When Smith defeated the Wolverines in 2004, OSU was unranked and had already suffered four losses. Now, redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett is leading a Buckeye team that sits at 10-1, 7-0 on the season with a shot at the first-ever College Football Playoff still in reach.
Despite Barrett’s inexperience, Smith said he believes the young quarterback will perform admirably against the Wolverines.
“The first advice is to stick to the game plan. Don’t try to be someone that he is not,” Smith said. “Obviously we have gotten a chance to see the transformation and the growth behind J.T. Barrett this whole season and I am pretty much blown away ‘cause as a freshman, he is doing some things that it took me an ample amount of years to grasp and have an understanding about.
“We as Buckeye fans, we should be privileged to see his growth and it will do nothing but rise.”
Barrett, a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, admitted after a 42-27 win over the Indiana Hoosiers that he had to be educated on the rivalry with Michigan.
“I knew it was big, but coming from Texas, it was Texas and Oklahoma. I went to that game being recruited. I really didn’t have anything on the team up north and Ohio State,” Barrett said. “It was a lot to learn. It’s a deep hate for those guys. Not just the players, but more the fans.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he makes a point of making sure guys like Barrett, who might not know about the rivalry, get acclimated once they arrive at OSU.
“We just make a huge deal out of rivalry games. I want the players to take ownership in the program, part ownership in the game,” Meyer said Monday. “This is not another game. This is The Game.”
Smith on the other hand, knew exactly what the rivalry meant.
“Growing up in Ohio, (I was) definitely biased towards having an understanding to which game was the best game of the year,” Smith said. “It is a different feel.”
While Barrett might not know as much about the rivalry, he has shown a knowledge of the OSU playbook as his 42 total touchdowns are not only tied for the best in the country, but have helped him set multiple school records.
One of those records used to belong to Smith, as Barrett passed the Heisman winner’s school record for passing touchdowns in a season (30) with four scoring tosses against the Hoosiers to give him 33 on the year.
Barrett’s play has gotten the attention of many people including Heisman analysts, as last week Barrett was given 15/1 odds to win the award by online gambling site Bovada.com.
Smith, who has a vote as a Heisman winner, said that while he hasn’t filled out his ballot just yet, he has a soft spot for OSU candidates.
“I usually like to wait until the last second. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that process and having an understanding of too what it takes to win the Heisman Trophy and I think it shouldn’t be awarded until the last game of whoever is in the standings because you never know who is going to have a breakout moment,” Smith said. “We have got great talent across the nation and (I am) definitely biased towards some of the guys who are going to be wearing the Scarlet and Gray if they are up there.”
Smith added that not only is Barrett on his short list of candidates, but said the redshirt-freshman should be on other voters’ lists as well.
“I think he should be in everybody’s mind. Statistically the things that he is doing, obviously numbers don’t lie,” Smith said. “Tom Herman and our offensive staff are putting him and are putting other guys in positions to make plays and J.T. is doing nothing but capitalizing on every single chance and opportunity.”
Barrett said following the game against Indiana that he does not let the Heisman talk affect his game on the field.
“When I think of that, Heisman and all that, I can’t control that,” Barrett said. “I try to handle things that I can control, and one of those things was so the offense could go out there and play well today.”
As Barrett and the Buckeyes turn their focus to their hated rival, Smith said he believes he knows how Barrett will feel when he takes the field for the first time against Michigan.
“I know J.T. is going to be on cloud nine,” Smith said.
Barrett and the Buckeye are set to take on the Wolverines Saturday at noon from Ohio Stadium.