Players should not lose starting jobs to injury, but sometimes there are exceptions. Braxton Miller’s story at Ohio State has gone off script in the past year, but he is determined to write a positive final chapter any way he can.
Ohio State will open the 2015 season in defense of a national championship for the first time since 2003, and now we know Braxton Miller will not be the quarterback under center when it does. Earlier this week word broke that Miller, a two-time Silver Football winner, will switch positions at Ohio State. No matter what happens with the position change (H-back, wide receiver… and punt returns?), we should all be respecting Miller and his dedication to Ohio State.
Nobody would have thought any less of Braxton Miller had he decided to leave Ohio State behind for a chance to play quarterback somewhere else in his final year of eligibility. He certainly had his options if he chose to do so. Miller, not so long ago, was the best player in the Big Ten and proved worthy of carrying Ohio State’s offense from the start of the Urban Meyer era. In 2012, Meyer’s first season in Columbus, Miller passed for 2,039 yards and rushed for a team-leading 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. Remember, this was the same Ohio State squad with Carlos Hyde on the field, (Hyde had 970 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns that season). Miller was the fourth-leading rusher in the Big Ten in 2012, and he did so in two fewer games than the second-leading rusher, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball one fewer game than the second Big Ten leader, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell. Ohio State was on a postseason ban in 2012, otherwise the undefeated Buckeyes would have added two more games to their schedule with a Big Ten championship game appearance and a bowl game.
Miller was one of the top players in college football, yet he has essentially been pushed out of the starting role thanks to the success of his understudies.
It wasn’t supposed to end that way anyway
When we last saw Miller on the football field, he was picked off by Clemson’s Stephone Anthony at the Clemson 39-yard line with 1:18 to play in the 2014 Orange Bowl. With just one timeout to burn, Ohio State could do nothing to prevent an inevitable loss, the second straight for Miller and the Buckeyes to close out the 2013 season. A season that was one Big Ten championship game win away from a berth in the final BCS Championship Game of the era turned out to be an unfulfilling 12-2 season. Miller has not thrown a pass in a game since, and that includes two spring games. Miller had taken a beating in that Orange Bowl by the physical and aggressive Clemson defense. During the game Miller injured his shoulder, which eventually led to Miller having to sit out the 2014 season.
As one who loves to ask “What if” in sports, one of the most fascinating “What if” scenarios focuses on Miller. What if Miller’s first surgery following the Orange Bowl had been followed up by a better result in rehabilitation? What if Miller had played against Virginia Tech instead of J.T. Barrett, starting in just his second game and first in Ohio Stadium in a primetime game? What if Ohio State ran the table (again) with Miller at quarterback? What if Miller played for the Buckeyes in the postseason instead of Cardale Jones? Would Miller have led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and a national championship? Maybe. Who knows for sure really. Who knows if Miller would have even come back for another year of college football had things worked out another way last season.
Miller was the ultimate teammate in 2014, supporting Barrett through the first 12 games of the season and Jones through the final three. The momentum of Ohio State’s championship ride led many to believe Ohio State was fine moving on from Miller, and others suggested Miller needed to get away to finish off his college career on a good note. Few expected Miller to return to Ohio State, but that is exactly what is happening. Miller never dropped much of a suggestion he would be interested in moving to a new program for his final year of eligibility, although there was that one Alabama tweet. Whenever asked about his future, Miller stood firm on the idea of returning to Ohio State. This despite the national narrative attempting to sway him elsewhere time and time again. But Miller is following through on his attempt to return to Ohio State, and the willingness to change positions to do it once again shows just how much of a teammate Miller really is.
We should also take a moment to recognize Barrett’s commitment to the Buckeyes. It is possible Barrett could lose his starting job to Cardale Jones (something I suggested in an Athlon Sports roundtable), but he reportedly helped Miller work on some catching skills this offseason in secret. That helps Barrett work on his passing and chemistry with a potential new receiver, while also helping Miller prepare for a potential position switch. And it all goes back to helping Ohio State win games by any means necessary.
It is refreshing to see a player so accomplished at one position not let what has transpired at Ohio State to sour his mood. Miller’s desire to help his team win while continuing his education where it started is admirable. In a month that has seen story after story about players getting into fights with other players or punching women in the face, at least we can end the month with a positive story. If there were more players like Braxton Miller in college football, we would all be winners.