Published Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 8:49 pm / Updated at 2:11 am
Barfknecht: Ohio State has makings of title contender — starting at QB

Two axioms about football will stick with me until my final kickoff: 1. The most important people in any football organization are the head coach and the starting quarterback ... and not necessarily in that order. 2. Football is the greatest team game of all — with more moving parts that must work in concert — except for one position: quarterback. An elite player at that spot can perform well enough when things go wrong to win the two or three tossup games needed to claim a championship.

Those generally recognized truths apparently are why Ohio State, with junior Braxton Miller at quarterback, is the runaway favorite to win the Big Ten title.

Now, before some Nebraska fans grab their dictionary of cuss words and run for their keyboards, take a deep breath.

I am well aware that Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez (coaches) and Miller (media) split first-team All-Big Ten honors last season. I also know that their per-game statistics were almost identical: Martinez's 277.9 total yards and 2.36 touchdowns to Miller's 275.8 and 2.33.

This column isn't any kind of slap at Martinez, who is poised for a big senior season and could lead NU to a title.

My mission is to look at why Ohio State is getting far more championship love than all other Big Ten schools combined.

Going 12-0 last season is big. Having Urban Meyer, who won national titles at Florida, as coach is huge. A star-powered supporting cast with a balance of talent between offense and defense obviously helps.

Then, there is Miller.

The junior is 6-foot-2, weighs 215 pounds and runs a 4.32-second 40-yard dash. Last year, while using what the Ohio State staff said was barely 60 percent of the offense, Miller set a school record for total offense and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

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“He's a completely different guy, in a good way,” Meyer said.

Miller agrees, saying: “I feel a lot more confident than I was last year. It's like, 'Dang, I actually know what I'm doing this year.' The plays are in my mind, and I (won't) second-guess myself.”

What really excites Meyer is what he has heard about Miller from summer 7-on-7 drills, which by rule are run without coaching supervision.

“The job of a quarterback, especially in college football, is to organize and take control of the 'throw' game,” Meyer said. “He didn't do that a year ago. He wasn't experienced at it.”

This summer, Miller has taken charge, which could lead to great things because that's what has happened through recent time when quarterbacks became leaders:

Jamelle Holieway did it at Oklahoma. Darian Hagan did it at Colorado. Tommie Frazier did it at Nebraska. Vince Young did it at Texas. Meyer talked about Alex Smith doing it at Utah and Tim Tebow doing it at Florida for two of his former teams.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Ohio State coaches rated Miller overall as a 4 at the end of last season and a 6 coming out of spring ball — with a good chance to reach 10 very soon.

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“I have yet to see the ceiling on a wonderful kid,” Meyer said. “I hope the ceiling starts to show up soon, because when it does, it's going to be fun to watch.”

Miller can't wait to slip into the driver's seat of an offense that Meyer said will run at “warp speed.”

“It's going to be different from last year,” Miller said. “We've got a lot more guys who can make plays in our rotation. It's fast-paced. We want to get it down the field as fast as we can.”

The biggest playmaker has been and will be Miller.

Ohio State's media office has detailed situations in 10 games last season in which he led a touchdown drive at a critical time that changed the lead or momentum toward the Buckeyes. Many times those drives involved a play that succeeded despite a breakdown or a strong defensive effort.

“You've got to make plays,” Miller said. “It's really important. As a quarterback, when things break down, you've got to do something.”

When Meyer looked to get back into college football after a one-year hiatus, he basically had his pick of schools. He pursued Ohio State in large part for the chance to coach Miller.

Meyer now says, “He's one of the greatest athletes I've ever been around.”

Now, mix Miller's physical skills with added confidence, more experience and the know-how to go though a season undefeated. That's a potent potion that any opponent will struggle to overcome.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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