Why Ohio State's Backup QB Could Be the Most Important Player in the Big Ten

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

Ohio State's Cardale Jones.
Ohio State's Cardale Jones.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ask yourself this: What if Kenny Guiton hadn’t been on Ohio State’s roster in 2013?

Would the Buckeyes—minus starting quarterback Braxton Miller, who went out with a knee injury in the second game of the year—still have gotten off to the 4-0 start that sparked a perfect regular season?

An early misstep would have cost them the Big Ten title game and their first trip to the BCS since the end of the Jim Tressel era. 

If not for their No. 112-ranked pass defense, a slip-up could have cost Ohio State a clear shot at a national championship.

Without Guiton as Miller’s backup in 2013, the Buckeyes would have faced San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M with either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones under center.

While it’s impossible to say with any certainty what would have happened without Guiton, it’s a sure thing that in 2014 if Miller goes down—yet again—it will be Barrett or Jones leading Ohio State in its quest to reach the first-ever College Football Playoff.

How big of a deal is this?

Well, the Buckeyes—who are No. 6 in Athlon’s early top 25 for 2014—will be relying on two backup quarterbacks who combined are an all-time 1-of-2 for three yards in the college ranks.

How Likely Is an Injury?

Is Miller really an injury-prone player or instead is the issue a product of media hype?

According to Ari Wasserman of Northeast Ohio Media Group via Cleveland.com, Miller has left six games with injuries since becoming the starter in 2011.

That equals six times in 35 starts, or 17 percent of his collegiate career.

And this number doesn’t include the shoulder injury which rattled Miller in the Buckeyes’ Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.

Miller left the Buckeyes' 2011 game at Nebraska with an ankle injury. He didn't return, and Ohio State lost 34-27.
Miller left the Buckeyes' 2011 game at Nebraska with an ankle injury. He didn't return, and Ohio State lost 34-27.Nati Harnik/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Among the most memorable moments was 2012 at Purdue, where Miller left in the third quarter with a neck injury, not to return. Buckeye faithful were traumatized by images of Miller leaving the stadium in an ambulance even though their team went on to edge the Boilermakers 29-22. 

Thankfully, Miller was back in action the next week at Penn State.

The most impactful injury came in 2013 when Miller’s Heisman campaign was derailed by a knee injury versus San Diego State. This cost him three games and a load of momentum.

What contributes to Miller’s propensity to injury is his athletic ability. In other words, if you can both run and pass the ball effectively, you are going to be in on more plays, and you’ll put yourself in harm’s way more often.

Miller’s Impact

When considering the importance of Miller to Ohio State, it’s key to keep in mind the statistical impact he’s had on the offense.

One of only four quarterbacks in 2013 to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards, Miller is in elite company and in “the offense” more than just a key contributor.

To illustrate, take a look at the percentage of offense Miller can be directly credited with in 2013 compared to other top quarterbacks around the league.

Individual Offensive Impact 2013
QBTeamPass YdsRush YdsTotal YdsTotal Team Yds%
MillerOhio St209410683162716744%
ManzielTexas A&M41147594873699969%
College Football Statistics

Though Miller’s contribution is smaller on paper than that of Jordan Lynch or Johnny Manziel, keep in mind that he missed three games in 2013 due to injury.

If you take Miller’s 263 average yards of offense per game and multiply it by three, that’s 789 additional yards lost to injury. Adding these back in, his total goes up to 3,851 yards, and he’s 55 percent of the Buckeye offense last season.

The message is clear: If Miller goes down, Ohio State’s offense is in jeopardy of losing more than half of its yards. The only way to avert this—other than him not getting hurt—is to have a steady-handed backup waiting in the wings to take over.

Guiton’s Contributions

In both 2012 and 2013, the Buckeyes had a great answer to the enduring question, “What if?”

The answer was Guiton, a guy who not only replaced Miller for three wins in 2013 but also played a key role in Buckeye victories in relief of Miller in 2012 at Michigan State, at Indiana and at Purdue.

How good was he this past season? Well, take a look at his numbers straight-up against other notable backups in 2013.

Backup Quarterbacks in 2013
GuitonOhio St1097568.8749142165.25
College Football Statistics

What’s worth noting here is the number of mistakes Guiton didn’t commit, an achievement reflected in his passer rating. 

To put this into perspective, if Guiton had posted the 165.25 mark after a full season of play, he would have finished the year ranked No. 8 in the FBS in passer rating. This would have put him just after Alabama’s AJ McCarron at 167.16 and before UCF’s Blake Bortles at 163.43.

And well before teammate Miller, who finished with a 158.08.

Though Guiton doesn’t have the same athletic gifts as Miller, he was so effective in the backup role that some argued he should be considered for the starting job, even if only temporarily.

Here’s what Ohio State beat writer Kyle Rowland had to say in a debate with Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network over who should start in this season’s Florida A&M game.

I’m simply saying that Guiton is a star, just like Miller. And if I have to choose between the two, I’m going with the guy who is A. Healthy and B. Playing better at this very moment.  

The point is that you can’t underplay the importance of having had Guiton as the No. 2 quarterback in 2012 and 2013. Moving forward, you can’t over-emphasize how vital it is to find the right guy to replace him for 2014.

In the Wings

Here’s the scoop on the two guys who will battle for the backup quarterback slot at Ohio State in 2014.

J.T. Barrett signed on with the class of 2013 as a 4-star—according to Rivals—from Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Rivals had him as the No. 7-ranked dual-threat prospect, and despite the fact that he redshirted in 2013 and hasn’t played a down of college ball, based on talent alone he is expected to have the edge for the No. 2 slot.

After redshirting in 2012, Cardale Jones participated in three games for the Buckeyes in 2013. His only collegiate stats came in the Buckeyes’ 56-0 win over Purdue where he went 1-of-2 for three yards.

Jones was a 3-star recruit in the class of 2011—according to Rivals—from Glenville Academic Campus in Cleveland, Ohio. Rivals had him as the No. 12-ranked pro-style prospect behind No. 1 Jeff Driskel, No. 2 Cody Kessler, No. 3 Max Wittek and No. 6 David Ash.

Can either Barrett or Jones be as effective as Guiton was as Miller's backup?
Can either Barrett or Jones be as effective as Guiton was as Miller's backup?Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

So, the million-dollar question is: Can Barrett and/or Jones come in off the bench and play the role of Guiton, who consistently led the Buckeyes to victory as the reliever? Or instead will they become like the woesome legend of Garrett Gilbert, who backed up Colt McCoy at Texas in 2009?

Either way, if Miller goes down at any point in 2014, one of these two unknowns may become the hinge on which the first-ever College Football Playoff door swings.

Statistics courtesy of College Football Statistics and College Football Data Warehouse. Recruiting data courtesy of Rivals.


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