Braxton Miller's ascension beckons.
"We've been blessed to have some great quarterbacks. And I'm really thinking this guy can be -- I'm putting a lot of pressure on this cat already -- but he's special. What I've seen on film, he's special."
When Urban Meyer was hired as the head coach of Ohio State, he wasn't the only one thinking about the potential that rising sophomore Braxton Miller could have in an offense like the power spread. Almost instantly, Buckeye fans were dreaming of a high-octane unit that scored 50-60+ points every game, all engineered through the arm and legs of Braxton Miller.
While scoring a ridiculous amount of points a game would certainly be nice, we should be excited about the personal growth of Braxton Miller. Not just as a quarterback, but as a leader as well.
In the 2011 season, Miller was thrust into a quarterback battle with Joe Bauserman (and to a lesser degree Kenny Guiton) when Terrelle Pryor left for the NFL. After the first 3 games, in which he was not the starter, Miller went 10-for-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 62 yards on 13 carries. That might not mean much, but fans had seen enough of Bauserman's high-flying souvenirs and were vocal about their desires to move on to the Miller era.
The rest of the 2011 season was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Despite losing 10-7 at home against Michigan State then traveling to Nebraska only to blow a 21-point lead in two very winnable games, Miller was able to overcome those gut-wrenching defeats to help rally his team to 3 straight victories. Two of those came against ranked opponents in Illinois (then #16) and Wisconsin (#15 respectively). The Wisconsin game in particular provided a signature moment for the 2011 season when Miller famously found Devin Smith wide open in a seemingly Hail Mary game clinching touchdown pass.
Unfortunately, Ohio State wouldn't quite be able to ride off in the sunset just like that. Four straight losses, losses at that in which the deficit for each game was within 7 points, drove the Buckeyes a 6-7 season-ending record.
As a passer, Miller would finish the year going 85/157 (good for a 54.1% completion percentage) for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. Braxton also rushed for 715 yards on 159 carries and 7 touchdowns. These stats are fairly good for a freshman, but might have been hindered due to some suspect to say the least play-calling and a lack of a true threat at the receiver position.
Pulling closer towards the start of the 2012 season, Miller has already shown some very solid progress throughout the spring and the summer. With some help from Tom Herman, there should be little doubt that Miller should be able to soon master both his footwork and throwing motion. As the excitement builds to see the new-look, year matured, year better Miller, there have been plenty of encouraging things said about the star quarterback, some of them coming from a certain Heisman winner:
"I see a lot of myself in him, all of myself," Smith said. "I solely believe he has a chance to be 10 times better than I was. He's a lot faster. He's a much better athlete.
"I'm extremely excited about his future. I want to see him take off."
Troy Smith will forever live in Buckeye lore as one of the best college quarterbacks to ever come through Ohio State. Smith not only won the Heisman, but also went 3-0 against Michigan and finished with a career 26-4 overall record as a starter. When a player like Smith gives Miller a compliment like that, he means it.
It's obvious Smith sees what most of us see: A talented young quarterback that has the tools to become one of the best quarterbacks in the storied history of Ohio State football. What is even more satisfying is that Miller is aware of all this. He continues to be one of the hardest working people on the team and has stepped up into a real leadership role.
The 2012 season is Braxton's for the taking. The Buckeyes go where Miller leads them and he knows it. The time has come for Miller to become the dominant force Urban has envisioned since even before taking the job at Ohio State. The stage is set and September 1st can't get here soon enough.