COLUMBUS — What a crazy ride it has been for the Ohio State football team this season.
The Buckeyes began the 2014 campaign by losing their two-time Big Ten Player of the Year quarterback, Braxton Miller — to a shoulder injury — giving way to a freshman signal caller in J.T. Barrett, who had never taken a snap in a collegiate contest prior to this season.
It certainly seemed their College Football Playoff dreams were dashed with the injury to Miller.
However, after a rough start, Barrett went on a rampage, logging more yards of offense than anyone in school-history, and more total touchdowns than anyone in the history of the Big Ten. Barrett was well on his way to making it a third-straight Big Ten P.O.Y. honor for the Buckeyes.
Last Saturday against rival Michigan, though, Barrett's dream season came to an end, as he suffered a broken ankle that will keep him sidelined for the rest of 2014 postseason.
"We love J.T.," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said Monday, during his weekly media luncheon in Columbus. "I personally have an incredible amount of respect for him as our entire team and Buckeye Nation does because of who he is. The more you'll get to know him the next several years, he's just a wonderful young man who is an incredible leader, works extremely hard at his trade. He's a Heisman candidate too, and he should be invited to New York. If he's not, then there is something wrong.
"He has Heisman statistics. He's a leader of one of the top 5 teams in America, so I hope that that young man is invited to New York, and he should be."
To make things incredibly worse for the Buckeyes, Kosta Karageorge, a walk-on defensive lineman who had been missing most of last week, was found dead near campus on Sunday, making the winning and losing of football games seem meaningless in the grand scheme.
With all of the challenges the Buckeyes have experienced this season, it kind of makes you scratch your head when experts question whether they will deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff if they take care of business this Saturday night against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship (8:17 p.m., FOX).
How well a team faces adversity should be a major criteria when determining who should be selected for inclusion in the playoff. And no team in the nation has faced more trials this season — and overcome them — than the Buckeyes.
"(Karageorge) goes missing, and then we lose J.T. Barrett, and then the tragic news last night (of Karageorge's death)," Meyer said. "I told our players, you add in the fact you lost your Heisman preseason candidate (Miller) at the beginning of the season, you shouldn't be in this situation (for a shot at the playoff).
"So you have to really reflect upon how that happened. There is not good fortune, the ball didn't bounce your way. We don't believe in that. We believe in an extremely close team, an extremely close team that leans on each other in tough times, and someone usually steps up and makes a tremendous play or says something.
"So that team, every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game," Meyer continued. "You have some really good built-in excuses. To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge. We're going to watch it very closely.
"I can tell you this: Extremely close team that does a lot of things together and cares about each other."
Sophomore Cardale Jones will take over the duties at quarterback for the Buckeyes in Barrett's absence.
Jones (6-5, 240) is a big, strong-armed quarterback, who has abilities to get the job done. It's just a matter of experience with the big man from Cleveland.
Meyer said Jones has certainly had the reps this season during practice in preparation that he was one play away from starting.
"Cardale, it's going to be his first start," Meyer said. "Obviously a really good environment against a very tough defense. But it's not like he's not taking snaps with the No. 1 offense or understands the concepts. So he has a very good understanding."
Freshman athlete, Jalin Marshall, who was a five-star quarterback in high school (Middletown, OH), will also get some get some looks at signal caller.
"Jalin is in that mix as well," Meyer confirmed.
Everything tells me that Wisconsin should win this game. The Badgers possess the best running back in the nation in Melvin Gordon, and more importantly, aren't dealing with tragedy.
But with all that Ohio State has had to overcome this season, who am I to believe they won't bound over this huge hurdle, as well?
Lee's Prediction: OSU 34-31