We have something of a developing situation in Columbus, where the Ohio State Buckeyes are now 3-0 with the highest AP rank of any Big Ten team thus far. Granted, the Buckeyes are only No. 16, but they're still on track for a very good season.
And the man at the center of Ohio State's success is sophomore QB Braxton Miller.
Ah, but for as good as Miller and his statistics can be, there's one purely insurmountable barrier for the Buckeyes this year: a one-year postseason ban that takes Ohio State out of the picture for a bowl game, the Big Ten championship and consideration by the USA Today Coaches Poll since it's a factor in the BCS.
So with Ohio State on the sidelines of postseason glory, does this take Miller out of the Heisman picture?
On its face, the postseason ban shouldn't affect Heisman voting in the slightest. After all, the Heisman Trophy is awarded after the conference championships are played, so the voters aren't coming into the voting process having watched everyone else participate in the bowls.
And yes, Ohio State not being eligible for its conference championship hurts, but of the five 2011 Heisman finalists, only Montee Ball and Tyrann Mathieu participated in their conference title games. Those two finished last among the finalists, incidentally.
Moreover, Miller had nothing to do with the Ohio State sanctions. His recruitment hasn't been called into question, and he's been clean on campus for the entire time he's been there. Say what you will about the need to punish Ohio State for former coach Jim Tressel's crimes, but nowhere is it stated that Ohio State players can't win trophies. This one's not on them.
And yet, even assuming Miller puts up numbers that merit Heisman consideration (we have to assume that for the time being, seeing as how there's no point in writing this article if we think he'll throw for 12 touchdowns all year or whatever), odds are that he won't be afforded a legitimate shot at the trophy from Heisman voters. And that stinks.
Just last year, USC was ineligible for the postseason while QB Matt Barkley was putting together an absolutely bananas year throwing the football. His final stats weren't quite of the caliber of Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, but still: 308-for-446, 39 touchdowns and only seven interceptions on a 10-2 team are phenomenal stats.
Barkley finished sixth in the voting, right behind a cornerback who was not very good at actually playing cornerback. Heck of a return man and a blitzer, though!
Back in 1993, we had another famously ineligible team put together a magical season: Auburn. The Tigers went 11-0 under Terry Bowden, the only team to make it through the season with an unblemished mark. There weren't any mammoth stat monsters on that team, but at the very least, RB James Bostic put up 1,205 yards rushing and 12 TDs on better than six yards a pop, all very good stats.
Bostic couldn't crack the top 10 of Heisman voting that year, even as Tyrone Wheatley of 8-4 Michigan claimed the eighth spot in the final voting tally. Wheatley's statistics were virtually identical to Bostic's: 207 rushes, 1129 yards, 13 TDs.
The problem Miller's going to face even if his Heisman resume is sound is that the narrative surrounding his season and Heisman candidacy is "does he deserve a shot at the Heisman?" And as long as the debate on Miller is about something negative like the sanctions and bowl ban, the longer people are going to be talking about something other than Miller as a football player.
So, Ohio State fans, if you want Braxton Miller to get some serious Heisman consideration, talk about him as a serious Heisman contender—and don't talk about him as a victim who deserves to be a Heisman contender. Talk about his stats, his big plays and his leadership. Don't talk about the sanctions.
Say what you will about Heisman voters, but above all else, they vote for what happens on the football field, so don't give them a chance to get distracted from Miller's own on-field exploits.
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