Starting Braxton Miller Could Give Ohio State an Edge for Title Defense

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2015

Jan 3, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) looks to the sidelines during the first half in the 2014 Orange Bowl college football game against the Clemson Tigers at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

There were less than 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Ohio State's Orange Bowl matchup against Clemson when Braxton Miller, trying to lead a last-minute rally, was picked off by Tigers linebacker Stephone Anthony.

That play sealed the Buckeyes' second consecutive loss to close out the 2013 season—a stretch that snapped a historic 24-game winning streak. It was also the last play Miller took part of as the starting quarterback at Ohio State.

Since then, he has watched from the sideline as not one, but two quarterbacks took the reins of his team and orchestrated a championship run that he's never completed during his collegiate career.

And with those two quarterbacks—J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones—returning to Columbus in 2015, rumors swirled that Miller was set to transfer and play his final season of eligibility with another team.

After an offseason filled with speculation, Miller ended the drama last Thursday when he officially announced his return to Ohio State.

“I’m from Ohio; this is my home state,” Miller said, according to Tim May and Bill Rabinowitz of The Dispatch. “This is where I started, and this is where I’m going to finish it.”

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Dec 7, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) warms up prior to the 2013 Big 10 Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
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And with Miller's return, Urban Meyer might be able to give his team an edge for its title defense by tabbing him as the starting quarterback.  

The Buckeyes, of course, should enter the season as the clear-cut, top-ranked team, regardless of who wins the unprecedented quarterback battle. With 15 starters back from last year's title-winning squad—highlighted by superstar juniors Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa—Ohio State is expected to dominate. Proof of that has come from Vegas, as the Buckeyes have been pegged as two-touchdown favorites over every opponent on their schedule.

Brett McMurphy @Brett_McMurphy

Ohio State favored by at least 14 in every game. Smallest is -14 vs. Mich. State. Also OSU -16 at Michigan http://t.co/OXjYVcIOGe

But orchestrating a run like that is close to impossible when you're the marked team. Unlike the 2014 Ohio State squad, which used the disappointing end to the 2013 season and Miller's injury as motivation, this year's edition will have a huge target on its back. It won't be the hunter, chasing a championship it failed to claim the previous year. It will be the hunted, getting each team's best shot every Saturday.

In a conversation with Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, Meyer talked about the mentality his team needs to adopt after winning it all.

"Just remember what got us here," Meyer said. "Don’t all of a sudden be the stars. I worry about behavior because I’ve been down this road before, all of a sudden I’m the toast of High Street. No, you’re not. "

But if Miller was tabbed as the starter, Ohio State wouldn't just be the reigning national champion. Suddenly, it would be a team led by a quarterback with something to prove. 

Tony Ding/Associated Press

“As it stands right now, I know I am the best athlete in college football," Miller said when addressing the impending quarterback battle, via May and Rabinowitz. "If any competition wants to come my way, I’ve just got to be smart about things and just stay looking forward.”

That attitude and hunger could elevate Ohio State this season, but of course, Meyer won't base this decision on something like that. The top priority is getting Miller—and Barrett—back to full speed and ready for contact. After that, the coaching staff will need to evaluate which signal-caller has the right combination of leadership and ability to move the offense.

But all things being equal, Miller has the most to prove of the three quarterbacks. And adding that element to a team as talented as Ohio State could spell trouble for college football's other title contenders.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.


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