Sights Set On A Full, Healthy Season For Braxton Miller
By Matt Natali
COLUMBUS, Ohio — From ESPN College Football Analyst Kirk Herbstreit to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith through banished signal caller Terrelle Pryor, the quarterback position at Ohio State is one of the most spotlighted positions in all of college football.
With senior quarterback Braxton Miller garnering early 11/2 odds of winning the Heisman Trophy in 2014, according to the Bovada sports book, this season will be no different.
In the final installment of a six-part series, we take a look at the quarterback position for Ohio State during spring practice and examine all the pertinent information surrounding the position during preparation for the 2014 season.
Fifth-year senior Kenny Guiton was arguably the most identifiable backup quarterback in the country last year. He entered the San Diego State game in week two after Miller suffered a knee injury and was 19-of-28 passing for 139 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, leading the Buckeyes to a 42-7 victory and preserving a 14-game winning streak.
He started the next two games against California and Florida A&M while Miller recovered and combined for 45-of-66 passing for 491 yards and 10 touchdowns and an interception as Ohio State rattled off two more wins. He also tallied 97 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Against Cal, he threw three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the game and had a school record 90-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith. The co-captain led Ohio State to 608 yards of total offense in the 52-34 road win was named the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week and the Big Ten offensive player of the week.
The following week in a 76-0 rout of Florida A&M, Guiton set another school record with six touchdown passes — all in the first half — and earned the Big Ten player of the week for the second straight week.
Guiton’s play sparked a mild quarterback controversy in Columbus, but Miller was healthy for the Big Ten opener at home against Wisconsin and didn’t relinquish the starting spot for the remainder of the season.
Considering the health concerns surrounding Miller in his collegiate career — and even dating back to his high school days — Guiton’s absence leaves a huge hole to fill in 2014.
Top Returning Players
Speaking of Miller’s health, shoulder surgery stemming from an Orange Bowl injury has sidelined the soon-to-be four-year senior starter through spring drills. But Miller, who in January decided to return for his senior season, should be fully recovered in time for fall training camp, according to head coach Urban Meyer.
“(Miller) will be full-go in time for the beginning of the summer,” Meyer said last week at the annual spring kick-off luncheon.
Despite the health issues last season, Miller was 162-of-255 passing for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He ranked seventh in the conference in rushing with 1,068 yards on 171 carries and 12 more scores.
Miller has earned the Big Ten’s Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, the Griese-Brees award as the top quarterback in the conference, and the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football recognizing the Big Ten’s top player as voted on by the coaches in back-to-back seasons.
With the 2011 freshman of the year award to his credit as well, Miller has earned seven individual awards in his career.
“We look forward to having Braxton rewrite every record in the history of Ohio State,” Meyer said. “He has shown a lot of leadership and growth as a quarterback.”
His experience and versatility as a passer and a rusher is the reason he is currently one of the top three favorites in the Heisman Trophy odds, but his ability (or inability) to stay healthy will determine if he can play up to those expectations in 2014.
If not, enter new backup quarterback Cardale Jones.
Jones is a third-year sophomore who saw time in three games last season in mop-up duties. He is a product of the Cleveland Glenville pipeline to Ohio State, but took a detour to Fork Union Military Academy in the fall of 2011. Jones enrolled at Ohio State in the winter of 2012 and redshirted that season.
“Cardale Jones was a guy who had a one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland a year ago because of his whole seriousness and approach to academics, his lifestyle, and Ohio State football,” Meyer said in reference to a questionable Tweet Jones posted in October 2012. “He’s had a tremendous spring and without question he can play quarterback at Ohio State.”
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who was Meyer’s first quarterback recruit at Ohio State, is also in the mix and was considered one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback prospects in the 2013 recruiting class. Barrett was a four-star prospect coming out of Wichita Falls High School in Texas, but tore his ACL during his senior season, leading to last year's redshirt.
New Faces In New Places
Early enrollee Stephen Collier (Leesburg, Ga./Lee County) is another dual-threat quarterback who threw for more than 4,000 yards, rushed for more than 1,500 yards, and accounted for 78 touchdowns in his high school career. He was a three-star prospect and the No. 72-ranked quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class according to 247sports.com.
As a senior, Collier threw for 2,291 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,021 yards and 20 more touchdowns, earning Southwest Georgia player of the year.
Prior to his senior season, Collier participated in the esteemed Elite 11 quarterback camp.
Not To Be Overlooked
With every position for the Buckeyes previewed in the last six weeks, we would be remiss to not take a quick look at special teams.
Sophomore punter Cameron Johnston led the Big Ten in average last season (41.6) and landed 63 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line to lead the country in that category. Long-snapper Bryce Haynes, who has seen time in the last two seasons, also returns.
The Buckeyes will need to replace four-year starting placekicker Drew Basil. Top candidates include early enrollee Sean Nuernberger, who was a two-time Kentucky first-team all-state kicker, and third-year walk-on senior Kyle Clinton.
Bonus Coverage: Buckeyes Break From Spring Ball For A Good Cause