Braxton Miller won’t be winning the Heisman Trophy this season.
The Ohio State quarterback entered the year as one of the favorites for college football’s most prestigious annual award, but after missing two full games and almost the entirety of another with injury, Miller won’t even be considered for the stiff-arming hardware.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not one of college football’s best players.
In fact, perhaps no player has caused as many preparation headaches among Big Ten coaches than Miller, who is turning in a tremendous campaign despite missing those games. Miller has passed for 1,083 yards and 11 touchdowns, all while rushing for an additional 403 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers are great for practically five games of action. They won’t make anyone’s eyes pop when compared to the rest of the country’s top playmakers, many of whom have seven or eight games under their belts.
But look past the numbers. What has so many coaches, including Miller’s own in Urban Meyer, piling on the praise is that ability to make plays. If you watched Miller against Penn State (a 63-14 Ohio State rout), Iowa (a 34-24 win) or Northwestern (a 40-30 win), you’ll share the admiration when it comes to Miller’s ability to keep plays alive, to turn something into nothing.
People often describe a quarterback who can burn opposing defenses with his arm and his legs a dual threat. But Miller might be more, a dual-and-a-half threat in lieu of upgrading him all the way to triple threat (that’s reserved only for the throwing, rushing and receiving skills of NIU’s Jordan Lynch). That’s because Miller can throw the ball, run the ball and use his legs to turn broken plays into positive yards, to beat the defense even when the defense has him beat.
"Braxton's a special talent, and the thing that makes him so good is — he's starting to throw the ball exceptionally well — but he always gets them out of trouble,” said Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell, who has the unenviable task of preparing for Miller and Ohio State this week, at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “It doesn't matter what the scheme is, he's back there running around like Fran Tarkenton and somebody will come open in some point in time. He's just a very special athlete. He sees the field, and he's got great legs when he pulls it down."
Miller was last season’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, though since Big Ten media day way back over the summer, Meyer has been touting him as a better player. Now? After the way he’s played this season? Meyer’s using the term “better than better.”
"Fundamentally, he's a much better player than he was a year ago and knowledge of the offense. Those two things. I see it every day,” Meyer said at his weekly press conference Monday. “The thing that we can't do, and I challenge our coaches all the time, and myself, we can't get bored and create these new plays, because you're bored with the old ones. The old ones work fine, just do it over and over again. The more a quarterback does the same system — you've got to figure up to this point Braxton was, his last year was the second system as a quarterback and now he's in the same one, same coach, same system for two years you should be better. But he's really better. I anticipated he would be better. He's better than better."
The reason though that the “better than better” Miller hasn’t received the attention he deserves on a national level might be the other strong offensive performers around him. Running back Carlos Hyde — after sitting out the season’s first three games while suspended — has averaged more than 154 yards rushing over the last three games and has scored seven touchdowns in those three contests. Running back Jordan Hall scored eight touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ first four games this season. And then there’s backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who filled in for Miller during those three games and threw for 643 yards and 12 touchdowns — including a jaw-dropping six TD passes vs. Florida A&M.
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When Miller struggled vs. Northwestern, turning the ball over three times in that contest, Guiton started warming up on the sideline, something Meyer said has motivated Miller to keep playing great ever since.
"I don't think it's coincidence,” Meyer said. “I think he knows and I've told him that there's absolutely no doubt he's — like it's maybe a little more complex than that — but if our center doesn't play well we're going to make a change if we have a good center behind him. And you see that in some other positions that as guys improve, we're going to make a change. And he knows that. He's not used to being second fiddle, his high school and college career so far. I love him to death; he's like a son to me. We get along great. But he knows I have a job to do, and that's to make sure the best players are on the team. The guy behind him happens to be a very good player, very good leader. Great to get him in the game. We're going to keep trying to figure out ways to do that."
So as this college football season heads down the home stretch and names like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel are popping up more than Miller’s when it comes to the Heisman conversation, know the reasons why. And also know that Miller is still gaining recognition from opposing coaches as the conference’s most dynamic offensive player.
Heisman or not, Miller’s good. Better than good. Better than better.