There aren’t many players who hold the importance of Braxton Miller.
It might sound strange, bestowing this kind of meaning on one quarterback. But through that college football prism, Miller’s Monday-night injury — the one that reports say could knock him out for the entire season — could be as big as they come.
Of course, the first thought is what the loss of Miller would mean to Ohio State. Putting it lightly, it would mean a heck of a lot. Miller is the Buckeyes’ best player, the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a back-to-back top-10 finisher in voting for the Heisman Trophy. He was the only player on a Power 5 conference team to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for another 1,000 yards last season.
The Buckeyes were projected as the favorites to win the Big Ten, and with their schedule — which is relatively easier than other conference-championship contenders — they were also favorites to land a spot in the brand-new College Football Playoff.
Without Miller, are they still?
Miller, a three-year starter and one of the best players in the nation, would likely be replaced by J.T. Barrett. Barrett, a redshirt freshman, is talented, sure, but he’s never played a down of college football. Equally troublesome is the fact that despite a talented receiving corps, the Buckeyes are breaking in a host of new starters along the offensive line and looking for a replacement for last year’s Big Ten Running Back of the Year, Carlos Hyde. That’s all without mentioning the rebuild going on on the defensive side of the ball.
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It sounds like a laundry list of issues that should’ve excluded Ohio State from national-championship consideration in the first place, but that’s how good Miller is. Even with all those things to improve on, Miller’s presence made the Buckeyes a contender. And while one still has to think that talent and schedule could put them near the top of the Big Ten, without Miller, it gives East Division rival Michigan State a clear leg up.
Beyond the effects on the Buckeyes alone, Miller’s absence could have big implications for the Big Ten. Without the conference’s premier player, it could mean no undefeated Big Ten teams at the end of the season. Michigan State or Wisconsin, for example, could still emerge conference champion but with a loss on the resume thanks to non-conference tests vs. Oregon and LSU, respectively. Regardless of what you thought the Buckeyes' trip to East Lansing would bring, Ohio State looked to have the best chance at an undefeated season. No matter how good the Spartans, Badgers or whichever team emerges as conference champ might be, one loss could keep the conference completely out of the College Football Playoff. That would be catastrophic for the Big Ten.
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And, at the same time, college football as a whole would lose one of its most dynamic stars. And, if Ohio State’s status as a CFP favorite is stripped, that means another team takes its place, potentially a team from outside the Big Ten. It could end up making way for a team that will end up having a shot at the national championship it wouldn’t have had if Miller were healthy.
That’s all without even touching on whether or not the injury would mean a direct jump to the NFL for Miller. The quarterback could potentially redshirt, but he might not want to press his luck and instead head straight to the pros, robbing Ohio State of a fourth year of its star player.
It seems odd that one player could mean so much to an entire season of college football, but it’s quite possible Miller’s injury could throw everything out of whack.