Now that Braxton Miller is out for the entire 2014 campaign with an injured shoulder, many in the media have dismissed Ohio State as a national championship contender. In their minds, the Buckeyes won’t overcome the loss of their star player.
I disagree. After all, college football history is full of teams that lost a quarterback due to injury early in the year and still managed to have an outstanding season.
Make no mistake about it: it’s not going to be easy. Miller’s season-ending injury leaves a huge void in the Ohio State offense. With so many departures on that side of the ball this season, Urban Meyer was counting on Miller – a three-year starter – to be an extension of the coaching staff on the field. His absence will make it even more difficult for an already-inexperienced unit to be successful.
Notice that I used the word difficult rather than impossible. Despite the gloom and doom many are predicting, several backups have stepped up and guided their teams to some very memorable seasons.
Here are three examples.
In Urban Meyer’s first year at Utah, starting quarterback Brett Elliott got injured on the final play of a 28-26 loss to Texas A&M. While many thought the season was over – much as it was the previous year when Marty Johnson went down with a broken leg, which ultimately led to then-coach Ron McBride’s firing – Meyer’s backup quarterback took over the offense, and guided the team to the Mountain West title. Along the way, the young signal caller guided the team to victory over an Aaron Rodgers led-Cal squad and No. 19 Oregon.
For those that don’t know, that quarterback was Alex Smith, who posted a 21-1 career mark as the Utes’ starting quarterback.
A similar incident happened at Notre Dame before the 1993 season. Shortly after highly touted freshman Ron Powlus won the starting job in fall camp, he broke his collarbone in a scrimmage. The Irish turned to fifth-year senior Kevin McDougal. A career backup, McDougal made the most of his opportunity, setting school records for completion percentage (62.2 %) and passing efficiency (154.4). His precision passing led the Irish to an 11-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the final polls.
Of course, the example that Ohio State fans will want to pay the most attention to is 1985 Oklahoma. In the fourth game of the season, the Sooners lost quarterback Troy Aikman to a broken ankle against Miami. Rather than panic, coach Barry Switzer tabbed true freshman Jamelle Holieway to run the offense for the rest of the season. Holieway responded by leading the Sooners to an 8-0 record as the starter, propelling OU to its third national championship under Switzer. Holieway’s stellar season (862 yards rushing, 21.5 yards per completion) was enough to convince Aikman – a future NFL Hall of Famer – to transfer to UCLA.
As the paragraphs above show, losing a quarterback in the preseason is simply not enough to stop a team from having a successful season.
Yet, the question remains, will Miller’s injury stop the Buckeyes?
I don’t think so. While losing Miller doesn’t make the team any better, Ohio State spent most of its energy shaping up the defense this spring, which means that it will be noticeably better this fall. That means the Buckeye offense won’t need to outscore its opponents like it’s had to do ever since Meyer took over two years ago.
It’s also worth noting that the coaching staff has spoken very highly of J.T. Barrett’s improvement this fall. As offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, “the offense moves better” with Barrett on the field, which is why he overtook Cardale Jones on the depth chart to earn the starting role.
Although this doesn’t exactly mean that Barrett is the next Braxton Miller – or even Kenny Guiton – it does give Buckeye fans hope for the 2014-’15 campaign.