Though most of the preseason Heisman hype is focused on SEC players such as Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron, the athlete who has the best chance of winning the bronze statuette hails from the Big Ten.
Sure, no Big Ten player has won the Heisman since Troy Smith did in 2006, but that’s all about to change.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the perfect combination of proven results, potential and opportunity to be deemed most likely to make an acceptance speech at the Best Buy Theater in New York City’s Times Square this December.
Five of the last six quarterbacks to win the Heisman were dual-threat talents. This bodes well for Miller, who was the No. 1-ranked dual-threat prospect from the class of 2011.
If Miller's play continues to show the consistent improvement he demonstrated over his first two seasons, he could be poised to have a Heisman-caliber campaign.
As a freshman in 2011, Miller threw for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 715 yards and seven TDs. As a sophomore, those numbers improved to 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air and 1,271 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
This made Miller 65 percent responsible for the Buckeyes' offense last season. To put this in perspective, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel accounted for 70 percent of the Aggies' offense in 2012, and Auburn’s Cam Newton pumped out 61 percent of his team’s attack three years ago.
Based on the previous decade of winners, big offensive numbers will be a requirement for the Heisman. That's a hurdle Miller should easily clear.
Ohio State returns four members of the offensive line to help Miller make it to the podium in 2013. The Buckeyes also return four of their top five receivers.
A defense that only returns four starters won't directly impact Miller's stats, but it may decide how far Ohio State goes as a team.
The biggest concern is the front seven, which returns only one starter, a linebacker.
The flip side is that coach Urban Meyer has recruited well enough to fill the holes. In fact, Ohio State's revamped unit could even improve on last year's No. 31 rank in scoring defense.
The fewest wins for a team with a Heisman winner occurred when Tim Tebow's Florida Gators went 9-4 in 2007 and Ricky Williams' Texas Longhorns went 9-3 in 1998. Every winner since 1998 has played for a team that had at least 10 wins. This means that an athlete has to play for a winning team, preferably one with double-digit wins, if he is going to win the Heisman.
This is another promising sign for Miller, who will be a member of a Buckeyes squad that has a realistic chance to win the Big Ten and reach the BCS title game.
What will help both Miller and the Buckeyes is a schedule that Phil Steele ranked the 67th most difficult in the FBS.
To put this in perspective, Clowney and the South Carolina Gamecocks will play the 14th most difficult schedule. Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies will play the 28th, and McCarron and the Tide will play the 40th.
Ohio State opens with four winnable non-conference games, playing Buffalo, San Diego State and FCS Florida A&M at home and Cal on the road. It also plays foes such as Iowa and Michigan, leaving other high-quality opponents such as Nebraska and Michigan State off the board in the regular season. The games against Wisconsin and Penn State are at home. The Michigan contest is in Ann Arbor.
All in all, it’s a schedule that lends itself to double-digit wins, which has become almost a prerequisite for a bronze statuette.
Urban Meyer and Ohio State
Having Urban Meyer as your head coach does more than just guarantee a certain level of credible on-field decision-making. Meyer has the brand power, history of success and influence to make the Heisman Trophy more accessible to an athlete under his tutelage.
Add in Ohio State’s track record with the Heisman, and Miller’s odds seem even better.
The truth is, certain schools present a more realistic Heisman aura than others. Think about it this way: Seven Buckeyes have won the trophy (tied with Notre Dame for the most), while only one player from South Carolina has ever walked home a winner.
This puts guys like Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville at a disadvantage. First, Louisville is not a school that screams Heisman—the program hasn’t won one yet—and then there is the difference between a Big Ten schedule and one from the Big East (or American Athletic Conference).
The Money Guys Agree
Perhaps the biggest sign that Miller’s Heisman candidacy is the real deal is the endorsement of the oddsmakers in Vegas. BetVega.com has Miller at 6/1 odds to win it all, a number that represents the top of the heap.
Behind Miller are McCarron and Alabama teammate T.J. Yeldon at 9/1, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Bridgewater at 12/1.
For now, Manziel has dropped to 15/1, but that may improve if he can find his way to the field in September.
The great thing about the Vegas consortium is that it offers up zero bias. Indeed, bartering cold hard cash leaves little room for passion-fueled predictions.