Braxton Miller has become one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history in just two seasons at Ohio State.
Ohio State's football program, which isn't known as a great quarterback producer, has had a string of solid quarterbacks recently. Since Craig Krenzel led the Buckeyes to the 2003 National Championship, quarterback play in Columbus has been at worst exciting and at best electrifying.
OK, the handful of starts from Justin Zwick and the three starts for Joe Bauserman provided more moments Ohio State fans want to forget than remember. But even the year and a half of Todd Boeckman brought a Big Ten Championship and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game.
Terrelle Pryor had a heck of a run for three seasons in this stretch as well. But in the coming years when "Ohio State" and "quarterback" are mentioned in the same sentence two names will come to mind: Troy Smith and Braxton Miller.
Different Paths to Stardom
Miller was a household name, at least in the state of Ohio, before he ever signed to play at Ohio State. Smith wasn’t a low-rated recruit by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t the 5-star recruit that Miller was.
However, both made their way to stardom for the Buckeyes.
Smith was the last member of the 2002 recruiting class. He went to the Elite 11 QB Camp but was brought into Ohio State as an athlete. That was largely because Zwick was in the same class and it was Zwick, not Smith, who was touted as the next great Buckeyes quarterback.
In his first season in Columbus, Smith redshirted while the Buckeyes went 14-0 and beat Miami in the BCS title game. In year two Smith was used to return kicks (five returns for 83 yards) and ran some in garbage time (three carries for 14 yards).
Then in 2004, in the midst of a three-game losing streak Smith replaced Zwick as the starter. With Smith sparking the offense the Buckeyes won four of their last five regular season games including an upset of No. 7 Michigan.
In Smith's 27 starts the Buckeyes went 25-3. Smith also became the first Big Ten quarterback to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
Miller was supposed to come in and learn from the sidelines as the Buckeyes won a National Championship with Pryor at the helm. But those plans failed. Pryor and others got suspended, Tressel resigned and Miller was thrust into a starting role in Week 4 of his freshman season. The team struggled to a 6-7 finish.
Comparing Miller to Smith: Passing
This is a tough comparison because Miller has had two years of college, while Smith was in his fifth when he threw his way to a Heisman Trophy.
By the time Smith took over as Ohio State's quarterback his mechanics were solid. However, Miller was forced into action immediately and the time to focus on his mechanics hasn't come until this offseason. I expect improvements and Miller to close the gap on these stats, but maybe not catch Smith.
It should also be noted that in Smith's three seasons he was throwing to three future first-round picks in the NFL draft. Miller has some talent around him, but not to the level of Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Santonio Holmes.
Those three bolstered Smith's 8.5 yards per attempt, especially in the 2005 season when Smith had all three and averaged 9.6 yards per attempt. Miller is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt, but with the weapons coming to help him, that number should increase.
Smith's extra time to learn and grow is likely a reason his 4.15 touchdown/interception ratio is better than Miller's 2.8 ratio.
As evidenced by his Heisman Trophy and 25-3 record, Smith was a great college quarterback. While I expect Miller to improve I do not expect him to surpass Smith as a passer at Ohio State.
Comparing Miller to Smith: Runner
Miller may not be the most talented or polished passer, but he also doesn't have many peers as a runner. Smith was a good runner, especially in his sophomore and junior seasons. But Smith's running ability isn't on the same level as Miller's.
Smith's running ability was almost his secret weapon. Smith was a pocket passer that could run if forced to or if given a wide open opportunity. But he preferred to throw the ball, especially as his career wore on. In his junior season, Smith carried the ball 136 times for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns. But in his senior season he only ran 72 times for 204 yards and one touchdown.
Those numbers are decent for a runner. But it was Smith's ability to scramble to find a receiver that made his feet special. That skill was on display in 2005 against Michigan when he escaped Michigan's pass rush countless times to extend Ohio State's drives.
Miller has shown the ability to extend plays and find receivers downfield, but it's when he takes off that he is special. In two seasons Miller has compiled 386 carries for 1,986 yards and 20 touchdowns. All of those numbers dwarf those of Smith's. Despite being the Buckeyes' main runner in 2012, Miller was able to average 5.6 yards a carry.
That includes the 28 sacks he took, too.
Comparing Miller to Smith: The Michigan Game
There isn't a more important game in Ohio State football than the annual showdown with Michigan. Smith always rose to the occasion of facing the Buckeyes' hated rival.
In 2004 against the No. 7 Wolverines, Smith threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns. He added 145 yards and another touchdown on the ground. His 386 yards of total offense output is fourth all-time in Ohio State history.
The next season Smith ran up 337 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in another win. In his senior season in the legendary game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, Smith piled up 328 yards and four touchdowns.
All together in Smith’s three games versus Michigan, Smith had 1,051 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns.
Despite losing his first game against Michigan, Miller was able to compile 335 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He didn't put up huge numbers in 2012, but his 246 yards and two touchdowns were enough to grab the victory over the Wolverines.
Miller Still has Time
Miller has obviously shown he is a great talent. Right now he isn't on the same level as Smith, Rex Kern and Art Schlichter as Ohio State's most legendary quarterbacks. But that's to be expected.
Miller still has two years to add to what he has already accomplished. Not many players have become top-five Heisman finishers, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and their school's all-time single-single total offense record holder.
Ohio State's record books will likely be rearranged a few more times before Miller leaves Columbus. And he just might leave the school as its best quarterback ever, but as for now Smith still deserves that title.