When Braxton Miller went down with a sprained MCL in his left knee on just the first drive in a Week 2 matchup with San Diego State last season, many Ohio State fans were justifiably concerned about the injury to the star quarterback. The fear of losing Miller for an extended period of time surely crept into their minds.
Luckily, Miller was forced to miss just two games last year.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case again this season.
On Tuesday, Ohio State announced that the two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year will miss the entire upcoming 2014 season due to an injured shoulder.
Obviously, the loss of Miller is a huge blow to a Buckeyes squad which was expecting to contend for not just a Big Ten title, but a national championship as well this fall. Over the last two seasons, the senior signal-caller has amassed a 22-2 overall record as a starter and he’s been one of the sport’s most feared dual-threat quarterbacks.
Sadly, the Buckeyes no longer have QB Kenny Guiton, who showed tremendous promise during brief relief duty last year, to fill the void. Instead, it will be inexperienced redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett who will take the offensive reins and step in as Miller’s replacement.
Without Miller in the lineup, many now seem to feel that 2014 could ultimately end up amounting to a lost season for the Buckeyes. Once news of the severity of the quarterback’s injury broke, Las Vegas switched Ohio State’s odds of winning a national championship from 12-1 to 50-1.
Though it’s clearly better to have a successful veteran running the offense than an inexperienced freshman, it’s a little too early to write off the Buckeyes and their unproven young signal-caller just yet.
Barrett has yet to prove himself on the collegiate level. However, he certainly showed he had the tools to develop into a dynamic dual-threat signal-caller during his days at Rider High School in Texas.
While at Rider, the 6’1’’, 225-pound QB displayed an intriguing combination of athleticism, passing prowess and overall playmaking ability. Though his senior season was coincidentally cut short by a knee injury, Barrett was still considered to be one of the premier prospects of the 2013 recruiting class. 247Sports had him ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 100 overall prospect, while Rivals ranked him as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback and 152nd overall prospect.
Though Urban Meyer is the coach who ultimately won the battle for his services, offensive gurus such as Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Baylor’s Art Briles and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen also recognized his potential and offered him a scholarship.
His physical ability was clearly evident during his high school career, but recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton also praised Barrett’s intangibles and leadership ability in his scouting report.
“This is where I really love this kid. He’s a tough, tough kid that is a leader with a good/strong personality and a guy others will respond to and play for. When you talk with him, he gets “it”. Smart kid, understands the game and not what he needs to do to improve, but how to get there. Tough, leader and winner.”
In circumstances like this, where a player is suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into a pressure-packed situation, mental maturity and that all-important “it” factor can be the deciding factor between success and failure.
Admittedly, a strong supporting cast also helps out a lot as well. Fortunately for Barrett, he’ll have plenty of quality talent surrounding him in the offensive huddle this season.
What he won’t have is bruising RB Carlos Hyde, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and scored 18 touchdowns in 2013. Hyde, the 57th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, is now suiting up for the San Francisco 49ers. What he will have, however, is an abundance of explosive playmakers such as receivers Corey Smith, Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall and running backs Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith and Ezekiel Elliott surrounding him at the skill-positions.
So while some pessimistic Ohio State fans may be ready to throw in the towel already, there’s still plenty of reason for optimism in Columbus. Looking back over recent seasons, there are numerous examples of first-year freshman starters becoming surprising breakout performers, most notably the previous two Heisman-winners: Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel.
Obviously, bringing up Barrett’s name in the Heisman discussion would be downright foolish at this point. But projecting him as a surprising breakout performer wouldn’t. He’s a gifted young athlete, who’s playing in a system that perfectly suits his versatile skill-set, and he’s playing with one of the best supporting casts in the country.
Miller has already announced that he plans on returning for the 2015 season. But if Barrett ends up playing up to his potential and shining in Urban Meyer’s spread offense, it wouldn’t be shocking if he ends up scaring the injured star off to the NFL.