Why Braxton Miller Will Have a Better 2013 Than Johnny Manziel
Since early December, the limelight has been focused on Johnny Manziel more than any other quarterback in college football. From becoming the first freshman to hoist the Heisman Trophy to winning the Cotton Bowl to controversy from getting a speeding ticket and drinking alcohol with his mother, Manziel continues to be headline news going into the 2013 season.
Now that a freshman has won the Heisman, pundits and fans are beginning to wonder if Manziel will be the man to finally join Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the only other two-time Heisman Trophy winner. The future looks bright and the possibilities endless for Johnny Football.
Looking down the list of players receiving Heisman votes in 2012, the only other two players invited to New York with Johnny Football will not be in college in 2013. Leading the vote list behind the top three included a wide receiver (Marqise Lee), a defensive lineman (Jadeveon Clowney) and two quarterbacks.
With all due respect to Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois, there is only one quarterback at a major football power anywhere on the list of Heisman hopefuls who built a foundation with voters in 2012. That player is Braxton Miller. Of course, Manziel and Aggie fans would be quick to point out that Miller finished with less than 10 percent of the votes that Johnny Football received, and it will be difficult for Miller to improve on leading a 12-0 team this year.
But here's a dose of reality for Johnny Football fans: Braxton Miller is going to have a better 2013.
Braxton Doesn't Have 'the Heisman Jinx/Pressure'
The Heisman has turned out to be a blessing and a curse for those who win the award and then return to college football the next year. Whether caused by injuries, lack of focus/drive or ridiculous expectations, it is hard to capture the magic of the first impression for Heisman voters.
The past few younger winners of the award proved this. In 2009 Mark Ingram won the Heisman in a tightly contested vote and seemed to be a huge favorite to run away with the award in 2010 as a junior. However, Ingram was derailed by missing the first two games of the season and never getting fully on track, splitting time with the stable of running backs Alabama now seems to have every year.
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford also caught the injury bug after he won the award in 2008. Bradford barely played four games in his junior season and left the field with season-ending shoulder surgery.
One player not affected by injuries was Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman as a sophomore in 2007 but then failed to do so as a junior or senior. Tebow put up similar numbers rushing and passing, but his touchdowns dipped from the incredible 55 in 2007 to 27 and then 39 as a senior. Tebow actually received the most first-place votes when Bradford won the award in 2008, but he ended up third in voting thanks in large part to not being able to match the production of his sophomore season.
Put simply, the Heisman puts a lot of weight on a player because every defender will give that player extra attention and his best shot in following seasons. It is seemingly impossible to put up the magic numbers it requires to win a Heisman twice. It is also tough to avoid the injuries that make such special seasons into ordinary good seasons.
Braxton has none of that pressure. He is not going to have to exceed ridiculous numbers to justify a Heisman like Manziel probably will have to do. The expectations are just higher on Manziel.
Big Ten Defenses Are Not as Good as SEC Defenses
Covering the Big Ten as much as I do, it pains me to admit this in front of SEC fans, but indeed this is true. SEC defenses are built on boatloads of the most elite talent available to be recruited in the country, and that talent is coached by some of the best minds in the game. With all this talent across the board on defense, it is a miracle the SEC manages to put up decent offensive numbers each season.
And Johnny Manziel now gets to enjoy playing against at least eight SEC defenses every season he remains at Texas A&M.
While teams like Alabama and LSU may have allowed a couple quick jabs in the first meeting with Johnny Football, those teams will adapt and play much better in rematches. That will make it difficult for the Aggie quarterback to put up the same numbers as in 2012, especially in the running game. Plus, staying healthy all year with so much running will be difficult.
But wait, doesn't Braxton Miller also run the ball a lot?
Yes, but he has now had two years of learning how to be a quarterback and he has all of his weapons back in the receiving game this season. Urban Meyer commented that the smaller features of being an elite passing quarterback are starting to come into place for Braxton, including footwork in the pocket as spring practice begins. That means he will still run the ball, but not as a first option. In addition, Big Ten defenses tried to adjust last season and did so at times (the Purdue game stands out before Miller's injury).
However, Big Ten defenses are not playing with the same stacked decks of talent as SEC defenses. So when Braxton Miller makes further adjustments and developments, it will be much harder for the B1G to keep up with him. Manziel just will have a tougher go over the long haul of conference play compared to Miller.
Ohio State Has Better Offensive Coaches
Urban Meyer put together an all-star set of coaches for the beginning of his tenure in Columbus, and that rewarded him with a perfect first season. It took every ounce of effort, luck and talent that Ohio State had left on the roster to survive the gauntlet in 2012, but the coaches got that out of these Buckeyes, especially on offense.
The rich only get richer as Ohio State surprisingly retained everyone on the coaching staff for year two of the Urban renewal era.
Texas A&M is built offensively on a coaching staff that turned Houston into an offensive powerhouse when Kevin Sumlin was head coach there. However, Coach Sumlin did turn to a new youth infusion to help Clarence McKinney run the offense this year, as Jake Spavital joins the staff after mentoring quarterbacks at West Virginia. He knows it will take more than a classic Big 12 mindset to win consistently against SEC defenses.
That being said, Spavital only has five years of coaching experience and now he is being given the keys to an offense in the SEC alongside McKinney, who has spent many years coaching high school football in Texas. All told, there's only about 15 years of college coaching experience here.
That experience pales in comparison to the co-offensive coordinators in Columbus. Ed Warinner is entering his 30th season coaching. He has coached on four different teams that led the nation in rushing. Tom Herman had record-setting offenses at Rice and also transformed Iowa State during his 13 years of coaching. More experience and more results mean Ohio State's offensive players can likely reach higher heights than those at Texas A&M.
That includes the quarterback, and Braxton is quickly becoming a great one thanks to coaching.
The Buckeye Offense Returns More Talent Than the Aggies
It took most of the season to really get rolling, but Ohio State looked like a whole different animal with Urban Meyer and Tom Herman calling the shots. Even when struggling with some young players learning roles and injuries at running back, the Buckeyes kept scoring just enough to let an improving defense win each game on the schedule.
In 2013 Ohio State returns pretty much everyone on offense. Nine starters will return, including Braxton Miller, all of the running backs, and all of the wide receivers except for converted tight end Jake Stoneburner. The offensive line will replace only one starter and will pave the way once again for big numbers in the passing and rushing games. Ohio State can only get better with all this depth and experience.
Meanwhile in College Station, Johnny Manziel will also have most of his offensive line back, with three returning starters upfront. Behind that, the only returning players are senior RB Ben Malena and sophomore WR Mike Evans. A ton of young players must now step into starting roles as receivers and tight ends, which could make the passing game a tougher road even with Manziel being more experienced.
Six returning starters is a good number to have, but nine is much better. Especially when the talent level is as high on offense as it is in Columbus. Braxton Miller will raise his level of play more than Johnny Football because the pieces around him will be better in 2013.
Braxton Miller Is an Upperclassman with More Experience Against 2013 Competition
The difference between a junior (Miller) and a redshirt sophomore (Manziel) may not be all that much as far as college practices, but two years of starting experience trumps one year by a wide margin. As noted on a previous slide, Braxton Miller has now seen how Big Ten defenses have adjusted to him and what he needs to do to overcome those teams.
With the exception of Northwestern, Miller has seen every good opponent and defense he will face in 2013 once already, and in most cases twice. That means there will not be too many exotic looks that these defenses can throw at him that he has not seen and overcome already. Knowledge is power, and Braxton now has that in spades.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M and the SEC are still learning how to figure each other out. Manziel only has one season of experience to work from, and the SEC coaches will have many more ways to attack the Aggies after finally having a full season of SEC game tape and in-game experience against them. These are still largely new opponents and the adjustment period may hit a bump in the road for this program in 2013.
Both of these quarterbacks are elite athletes that really force defenses into many tough positions. However, Miller will have the upper hand thanks to the abundance of experience heading into his third full year as starting quarterback.
Braxton Miller Has Fewer Distractions
Unfortunately, Johnny Manziel has had some off-field troubles during his college career. Although getting arrested after a fight and getting a speeding ticket may not be big deals for the average college student, the spotlight is bright on Manziel now for as long as he plays in college. The NCAA will look closely at every action, looking for non-compliance with archaic rules, while risks and temptations to be a bit wild will continue to abound for Johnny Football.
Not to judge a 20-year-old on past actions, but the trend is there for further misbehavior and problems to continue. Meanwhile, Braxton Miller has seemingly kept his nose very clean at Ohio State. That program is already under intense NCAA scrutiny for past sins, and it is probably clear that no Buckeye will be allowed to step too far out of line and keep his starting position.
That means things might continue to be a bit wild in College Station, and tame in Columbus. If the off-field distractions continue, then Manziel will eventually lose focus on the field as well. It is extremely difficult to ignore all the bright lights and offers for entertainment when becoming a celebrity (a Heisman winner qualifies), but that is the task at hand for Johnny Football.
Braxton Miller does not have to deal with any of that. The pressure to be perfect as a team is there again, but that is a shared pressure instead of individual.
Miller has all the factors leaning in his favor, and he will have a better 2013 season than Johnny Manzier. You can take that to the bank.
Thanks for reading! David is the featured columnist for Big Ten Football at Bleacher Report. Please follow David on Twitter and leave your thought in the comments below.