Before the start of the college football season, it looked as though Ohio State would be in playoff-or-bust mode from the start with a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy leading the offense. Many jumped off the Buckeye bandwagon when quarterback Braxton Miller underwent shoulder surgery to keep him off the field, but here we are in November and Ohio State is in the playoff hunt thanks to Miller’s replacement.

If you are looking for this year’s young rising star with a shot to win the Heisman Trophy, look no further than Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. The freshman starting quarterback has stepped into a tough spot and has grown and matured along the way with terrific results. It is not a coincidence that Ohio State’s climb up the rankings over the last month has coincided with some of Barret’s top performances.

Barrett stepped right into the starting role after Miller underwent surgery, and he passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 50 yards against Navy in Ohio State’s season opener. The following week was a recipe for disaster though with Barrett making his first home debut in primetime against a program typically known for its defense, especially against a young, inexperienced quarterback. Virginia Tech picked off three passes from Barrett that night in early September, and with the loss many wrote Ohio State off for the season. But the season continued and Barrett has been picked off just four times since. Since the loss to Virginia Tech, Barrett has led Ohio State back to the top of the Big Ten by passing for 25 touchdowns and a little under 2,000 yards. That has included road wins against one of the Big Ten’s top defenses (Penn State), defending Big Ten champion Michigan State and this year’s surprise team in Minnesota. Barrett had some rough moments against Penn State, but he put the team on his back in both overtime sessions by running for two touchdowns. At Michigan State, Barrett passed for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a statement game. The following week there was no let down as Barrett passed for 200 yards and rushed for 189 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns.

Barrett may not be the best quarterback in the country, but he is certainly one of the hottest quarterbacks around the nation. If Barrett leads Ohio State to a Big Ten championship, his case will only get stronger with each week in the season.

Heisman Spotlight: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 19 USC

Moving from the Big Ten to the Pac-12, we have one of this season’s preseason favorites looking to score a big win in the Pac-12 South against a rival. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and his 2,547 passing yards and 17 touchdowns will lead the Bruins against USC, looking for a pivotal win in a crowded division race. Hundley has remained on the radar all season and could benefit from a big signature win this weekend, but USC quarterback Cody Kessler may be having another season few seem to be taking note of. Kessler is closing in on 3,000 passing yards and has thrown for 29 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Kessler has lacked a real signature moment this season, but a win and a strong showing against UCLA might open some more eyes.

Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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