COLUMBUS — Let’s not beat around the bush here. No hemming and hawing, doodling and dawdling to force you to read to the final line. Let’s get right to it.
With Braxton Miller, Ohio State was the Big Ten favorite, a reasonable candidate to go 12-0 against a downhill, ski-slope, pick-up-speed kind of schedule, and was getting 10-1 odds in Las Vegas at making college football’s new Final Four, not bad considering the wealth of talented teams dotting the countryside.
Without him? No way, Jose.
Miller underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the same injury and the same surgical procedure he underwent following OSU’s loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. As every Buckeye fan knows by now, he will not play in 2014.
“He’s the leader, the great playmaker,” said offensive lineman Taylor Decker. “To find out we’re not going to have his abilities was a big shock.”
Red-shirt freshman J.T. Barrett, the first quarterback recruited to Ohio State by coach Urban Meyer, will start the opener Saturday against Navy in Baltimore.
Monday’s first regular-season session conjoining the media with Meyer and selected OSU players was a regular Barrett pep rally, minus Barrett.
There was a big-time attempt to put a happy face, or at least a face without the stain of tears, on this turn of events. And, who knows? Maybe the Buckeyes will get the last laugh on this.
But it seems unlikely.
Barrett may prove to be good, very good. But he is not a two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year. He is not replacing just any college quarterback. He’s replacing the guy who was perfect for Meyer’s spread offense, whose combined arm strength and mobility made him a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Miller has 5,292 career passing yards and 3,054 rushing yards, incredible instincts and eyes in the back of his head.
Barrett’s yardage totals, to date, are 0 and 0. Experience matters.
So, too, do some other troubling things. Without Miller, the Buckeyes have just four of 11 offensive starters returning. The holes are spread evenly along the line, at running back, and in the receiving corps. Now, there is one at quarterback, too. Statistically, without Miller, OSU returns only 11.5 percent of its total offense from a year ago.
With Miller, Navy is a fly to be swatted; Virginia Tech is a big-name team that’s not presently big time; Maryland a bug to be squashed in the Terps’ first Big Ten home game, and Penn State is poised to really feel the wrath of those Jerry Sandusky sanctions.
With Miller, the only game on the schedule with a big red circle around it was Nov. 8 at Michigan State.
Without him, there are a lot of dates with circles. The Midshipmen will sense an opportunity and be foaming at the mouth. If VaTech holds a patent it is on defense. Maryland could be 5-0 and rolling. Penn State has a quarterback named Hackenberg and he’s the family member (not really) with talent.
Without Braxton Miller there are so many questions. With the rest of the Big Five power conference world convinced Big Ten football is not to be taken too very seriously, all national title dreams go up in smoke with one loss, any loss, anywhere.
That’s a lot to dump on a rookie quarterback’s shoulders.
Too much, maybe.
Monday’s J.T. Barrett pep rally might have had you thinking otherwise.
Instead of quoting individuals, we’ll just lump ‘em all together, because they all pretty much said the same things.
“He’s a calm dude… very business like… a competitive spirit… poised and football savvy and he’ll do great… a leader, period… one guy doesn’t make a team, so it’s next man up, and J.T. is the right man.”
What else can they say, really?
Meyer said, “We all know what’s coming down the barrel at him, but his demeanor hasn’t changed.”
Yes, indeed, there is a lot coming down the barrel at J.T. Barrett.
Meyer said the short-lived competition — under the circumstances, and to get practice reps in the right hands, OSU had to make a quick decision — between Barrett and Cardale Jones was “pretty close. It was thrust upon us quickly. In my heart, I honestly thought Braxton would be good to go.”
Still, Meyer insisted that he was more confident than anxious with Navy’s waves lapping at the shore.
“I’ll fake it sometimes if I feel we don’t have a good team,” the OSU coach said. “I’ll tell you, I think we have a good team.”
But not the same team.
Not Braxton Miller’s team.
No, not that team.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.