Ohio State’s road to the Big Ten title—and the first ever college football playoff—just got a whole lot tougher.
Ohio State officials on Tuesday confirmed the rumor that first hit social media late Monday: Star quarterback Braxton Miller, a Heisman candidate and perhaps the single best offensive player in the Big Ten, will miss the entire 2014 season after injuring his right throwing shoulder in practice.
That same shoulder has been a problem for Miller in the past, and according to reports, this latest injury wasn’t even spurred by contact—it happened while Miller was simply throwing a routine pass.
The loss of their offensive star and team leader represents nothing short of a crushing blow for the Buckeyes, who had been considered not only a co-contender—along with Michigan State—to win the conference title, but real contenders for the national title as well. One year after seeing a 12-0 regular season fall apart with back-to-back losses in the Big Ten title game (to Michigan State) and in the Orange Bowl (against Clemson), many believed this team had not only enough talent but also enough motivation to make a real run at the title. They also had Urban Meyer on the sidelines, and it was thought, the supremely talented Miller running the show on offense.
With Miller now out of the picture, it will be up to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to lead an offense that, with Miller in control, had far too often counted on its signalcaller to make plays in the clutch.
Barrett is talented young player, and by all accounts he’s a tough competitor, too, but he will bring to the table this season neither the experience nor the overall talent that Miller has; after all, few players could. This kid facing a real challenge, and really, not even the closest Buckeye-watcher can predict how well—or how poorly—he’ll respond to it. The simple reality is that this Ohio State team was an obvious Top 5 squad with Miller in the lineup; without him, well, they are a clear No. 2 (on paper) in their own division.
The question everyone wants to try and answer now, of course, is the obvious one: how many games can this team win without Miller?
Well, here’s my best guess: they can’t possibly win less than 10. Here’s the game-by-game breakdown.
at Navy (in Baltimore), Aug. 30: Losing a key linebacker may have cost the Buckeyes against that confounding Navy triple-option offense; losing a star quarterback likely won’t. The Buckeyes will still be stronger up front and they’ll still be faster on the flank. It won’t be an easy win. But it will be a win nonetheless.
vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6: The Hokies aren’t what they once were and probably won’t ever be again so long as coach Frank Beamer sticks around (he’s done a fine job, but he’s past his peak). Win.
vs. Kent State, Sept. 13: Win. No further comment.
vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 27: The Bearcats will put up a fight, but don’t have the size or strength to deal with the Buckeyes for four quarters.
at Maryland, Oct. 4: The Terps will be better than many Big Ten fans expect, and the typically tepid Byrd Stadium will likely be roaring for this one, so I would expect the Buckeyes to struggle for at least a half. And then win by at least 10.
vs. Rutgers, Oct. 18: Win.
at Penn State, Oct. 25: In theory, this game would represent the Buckeyes’ first true test. Night games in Happy Valley can be tricky, and James Franklin has brought along incredible energy to the Nittany Lions. The one thing he hasn’t brought along? Depth on the offensive line or at linebacker. It may be close but the Buckeyes will win. Probably.
vs. Illinois, Nov. 1: Win. Tim Beckman.
at Michigan State, Nov. 8: historically speaking, of course, we know that we should never really trust Sparty. Because they are Sparty, and for the better part of four decades, they excelled at letting their fans down just when their fans finally managed to get their hopes up. All that being said, and call me naïve, but I am a believer in Mark Dantonio, and I am a believer in the new-look Sparty. This is the game where Miller’s injury finally costs the Buckeyes. Though to be fair, I think the Spartans would have won even if he was there.
at Minnesota, Nov. 15: A potential trap game, sure. But a win. Probably.
vs. Indiana, Nov. 22: An even bigger potential trap game. But while the Hoosiers will score some points, I simply can’t foresee a time when Indiana will ever beat Ohio State in Columbus.
vs. Michigan, Nov. 29: Anyone remember when we thought Brady Hoke was going to save Michigan? Win. Definitely.
So there you have it. Nine sure wins, one loss, and two likely but not quite guaranteed wins. Our best guess here is that this team, without Miller, still finishes 11-1, still enjoys a nice bowl trip and still gives its fans something to feel good about. But there will be no national championship, no playoff berth and no Big Ten title.
But hey, take solace, Buckeyes fans. It could be worse.
You could be Michigan.