Barrett far from OSU's first surprise starter

J.T. Barrett is far from Ohio State's first surprise starter on a team with a senior returning quarterback. Though his circumstance is unique, we thought we would take a look back at previous seasons someone else ended up under center.

Reaction to how Ohio State will fare this season without senior quarterback Braxton Miller has varied, with some worried it derails the Buckeyes' season but others expecting them to remain contenders for the Big Ten championship and a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

While a shocking news item when it broke earlier this week, losing an expected starter is not without precedent at Ohio State. Neither is seeing a senior replaced by a younger man as the Buckeyes' signal caller.

In fact, this will be the sixth time it has happened in the past 50 seasons, including three times in the last seven.

Miller is the first one to require a replacement because of injury, but he knows what it is like to be thrust into a starting role as a freshman despite the previous season's starter being an underclassman. He ended up being the starter in 2011 after Terrelle Pryor left school in June amid questions about additional NCAA violations (he was already facing a five-game suspension for previously admitted violations). Like Miller, Pryor became a surprise true freshman starter in 2008 after senior Todd Boeckman struggled early in the season.

The other three times something like this happened were during the Woody Hayes era as the Hall of Fame head coach three times opted for a younger player with a senior returning starter on his roster.

In 1968, Hayes replaced senior Bill Long with sophomore Rex Kern (freshmen were not eligible at that time). Five years later, Hayes chose sophomore Cornelius Greene over Greg Hare in 1973. Finally there was 1978, when heralded freshman Art Schlichter became the starting quarterback and Rod Gerald (the starter in '76 and '77) moved to wide receiver.

How did all these moves work out? Pretty well, actually. Three of the five new starters led the Buckeyes to Big Ten titles. Two led undefeated campaigns, and one won a national championship in his first season at the controls.

The last time this happened did not go so well, however, as the 2011 Buckeyes stumbled to 6-7, their first losing record since 1988. Miller was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he endured more than a few growing pains. The team as a whole had larger issues, of course, with head coach Jim Tressel having been forced out shortly before Pryor left and multiple returning starters facing suspensions all related to an NCAA extra-benefits case.

While the '11 season began with the loss of a national championship-winning coach, that's how the 1978 season ended. Schlichter played no small role, tossing the pass Charlie Bauman intercepted and returned near the Ohio State sideline, where Hayes punched the Clemson linebacker in a fit of rage. Hayes was fired after the game, and Schlichter went on to break nearly every Ohio State passing record in the following three years.

Kern, Greene and Pryor were integral parts of Big Ten championship runs, all validating their coach's decision to make a change under center.

Kern passed for 972 yards and ran for another 534 in an offense revamped to take advantage of his athleticism in 1968. Also worth noting: Kern's backup, fellow sophomore Ron Maciejowski, played an important role in that '68 season and the ones that followed by filling in for the injured starter on more than one occasion. "Mace" started the Buckeyes' 43-8 win over Wisconsin in '68 and ran for 124 yards. He also completed 13 of 19 passes for 153 yards, keeping the Buckeyes undefeated and on track to be named the consensus No. 1 team in the country. That came a week after he led the game-winning scoring drive in relief of Kern against Michigan State.

In '73, Greene led the Buckeyes to 10 wins and a Rose Bowl victory. The only blemish on the record was a 10-10 tie with Michigan, but Ohio State followed that up by thrashing USC 42-21 in Pasadena. Greene threw for only 343 yards on the season, but the Washington, D.C., native was second on the team with 720 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

In 2008, Pryor threw for 1,311 yards, ran for 631 more and led the Big Ten with a pass efficiency rating of 146.5 after replacing Boeckman, who was afforded a nice finale at Ohio Stadium when he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline in the 42-7 season-ending romp against Michigan.

Where will J.T. Barrett's freshman season rank among these surprise starters? Only time will tell.

Follow on Twitter @marcushartman

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