The Ohio State Buckeyes received some devastating news Monday when it was revealed starting quarterback Braxton Miller reportedly re-injured his throwing shoulder.
Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch got wind of Miller's ailment and proceeded to name Miller's prospective successor should he miss the 2014 season:
This is extremely discouraging because Miller underwent arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder in February. Now the Buckeyes will likely have to turn to another dual-threat QB in J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who has never thrown a pass at the college level.
Barrett must learn the starting job and do so in swift fashion to rescue Ohio State from this potential disaster scenario.
Although he is an unknown commodity, Barrett may catch opposing defenses and NCAA football fans by surprise as a result. The S.H. Rider High School (Wichita Falls, Texas) product was a 4-star recruit and the third-ranked dual-threat QB in the class of 2013, per 247Sports' composite rankings.
That's encouraging enough—unless you're a Buckeye fan with extremely high expectations and happen to look at the following anecdote from ESPN Stats & Info:
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman seems to believe Barrett gives the Buckeyes the best chance to win in the event Miller can't go, per Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman:
The offense moves better when he's in there. You can throw all the completion percentages – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game. But at the end of the day, the offense moves when he's in and sometimes it doesn't as much, not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one.
Eleven Warriors alluded to a potential silver lining created by Miller's circumstances in the spring, too:
But ESPN college football personality Rece Davis doesn't seem confident the Buckeyes can contend for the national title, much less in the Big Ten:
Hard to blame many people for having that opinion. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller went a step further:
Braxton Miller has held the starting job since part of the way through his true freshman year and is the leader of this team. Now he is in danger of not taking to the gridiron at all, pressing a player in Barrett who had to think his chance to shine wasn't coming for at least another year.
The glowing review by Herman, someone who doesn't know Barrett as well, is a good sign, however.
The following testimony from Barrett's Rider coach Jim Garfield (h/t The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz), also hints there may be more reason for optimism in Columbus than meets the eye:
J.T.’s stats are not what you would call superstar stats, but it’s the hidden yards that you really can’t see from statistics. He just kept the chains moving. He kept our defense on the field. He made great decisions. He ran the ball well, threw the ball well. I can’t say enough about way he handled the game. His leadership, that’s always been the main selling point to the guys who were recruiting him. He’s great kid, one of the best personalities I’ve ever been around in coaching. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around in coaching. When J.T. talks, everybody listens.
It sounds as though Barrett is in the business of winning games more than putting up good numbers, which may be just what coach Urban Meyer's Buckeyes need.
As an expected Heisman Trophy contender, Miller would attract a lot of individual attention if he were to be capable of starting under center. For an offense that lost star running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL, the onus would have been on Miller to pull the weight. The media would also focus on him with scrutiny amid his senior season.
Pittsburgh Steelers first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier was a big loss from the 2013 Ohio State defense, yet he was also the only returning starter on that front seven. Thus, the Buckeyes should be as defensively sound as ever in the Meyer era.
With an underdog but apparent leader in Barrett, whose intangibles and grasp of the offense seem swell enough in light of what Herman and Garfield purport, perhaps Ohio State can exceed expectations under his guidance. The schedule isn't too harsh, as No. 8 Michigan State is the only Top 25 team on the slate at the moment, though that game does take place in East Lansing.
It stands to reason that even competent play by Barrett could keep the Buckeyes' high hopes for 2014 alive.
But for that to even be feasible, Barrett has to take control, limit mistakes despite his inexperience and use his legs to help drive the rushing attack. In the Buckeyes' spread system, they can keep it on the ground, control possession, lean on defense and get occasional big plays in the passing game to still be Big Ten contenders.
Getting it done in the spring is one thing. Performing on such a massive platform for Buckeye Nation, in a power conference and with the pressure that comes with it is another matter entirely. Should Miller miss the year, Barrett will make or break the Buckeyes' chances of winning both the Big Ten and national title amid a new playoff system.
Quite the tall task for a quarterback who has yet to throw a collegiate pass.