News of Braxton Miller's season-ending injury at Ohio State is dominating the headlines. But the Buckeyes won't be the last Big Ten team this year to go in search of an alternate plan at QB. Last year, 10 of the current 14 teams in the league used at least two starters at the position.
Here's a ranking of Big Ten teams most equipped to handle an injury to their top quarterback:
- Wisconsin: Junior Joel Stave and senior Tanner McEvoy remain locked in a race for the job, and both are likely to play. Stave, who has started 19 games, remains the favorite, though McEvoy, a safety last year, adds a running threat for the Badgers.
- Maryland: Junior Caleb Rowe, the backup to sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, has a strong arm and four games of starting experience from last October. Rowe improved during that month and regularly gets time in practice with the first-team offense.
- Iowa: Sophomore C.J. Beathard played meaningful snaps alongside Jake Rudock a year ago. Beathard will get opportunities again. And if the Hawkeyes need him full time, it's far from a disaster.
- Illinois: Transfer Wes Lunt appears in control of the race, with the Illini set to name a starter on Wednesday. Senior Reilly O'Toole has shown a capable arm, and sophomore Aaron Bailey has good size and running ability.
- Michigan: Devin Gardner missed the bowl game last year, giving the Wolverines a glimpse of Shane Morris. That experience in a 31-14 loss to Kansas State aided Morris in getting prepared for his sophomore season.
- Purdue: Returning starter Danny Etling won a legitimate competition this week over fellow sophomore Austin Appleby, who expects to keep pushing. If the Boilermakers need to use their depth, another to watch is touted freshman David Blough, on track now to redshirt.
- Ohio State: It's time to find out. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is known for his steady hand, accuracy and decent athleticism. Sophomore Cardale Jones, next in line, is a big body who could be used more than Barrett as a running threat.
- Michigan State: Sophomore Tyler O'Connor and redshirt freshman Damion Terry have conducted a spirited battle this month, with O'Connor remaining ahead in the race to back up Connor Cook. If a replacement is needed, both options would likely receive consideration.
- Nebraska: Behind Tommy Armstrong Jr., who started seven games as a replacement a year ago, the Huskers have no experience. Sophomore walk-on Ryker Fyfe owns the edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, a former elite recruit.
- Penn State: Newcomers Michael O'Connor and Trace McSorley have adjusted well to life behind Christian Hackenberg. O'Connor is bigger and practiced with the Nittany Lions in the spring, so he's probably the first option if a backup is needed.
- Northwestern: Unlike a year ago, Trevor Siemian is the clear starter. Behind him, junior Zack Oliver and redshirt freshman Matt Alviti have waged a competition. Alviti brings a dual-theat similar in the mold of ex-Wildcat Kain Colter.
- Minnesota: Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler has emerged as the top backup to Mitch Leidner. The Gophers tinkered with Streveler at receiver last year before the transfer of Philip Nelson, so athleticism is a plus. But Streveler's inexperience is a concern.
- Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights need Gary Nova and his vast experience in this transition to the Big Ten. Backups Mike Bimonte, a junior, and freshman Chris Laviano possess good size, but neither QB has played a down in college.
- Indiana: The Hoosiers have no experience behind incumbent Nate Sudfeld. Walk-on sophomore Nate Boudreau has taken most of the snaps at No. 2, though true freshmen Zander Diamont or Danny Cameron might be given a closer look if Sudfeld misses time.
- Barrett, Ohio State's new top quarterback, will answer the call, according to his high school coach. Meanwhile, Miller's potential return in 2015 could help the Buckeyes with a top QB prospect. And the injury serves as a blow to the entire Big Ten.
- Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was in midseason form for a scrimmage this week.
- Michigan looks set to start true freshman Mason Cole at left tackle, a sure sign of the urgency to upgrade the offensive line.
- What Miller's injury means to Penn State.
- Indiana's 3-4 defense features a versatile group of linebackers.
- Maryland is one of the first schools to announce that it will honor all scholarships until graduation.
- Helmet cameras offer a new perspective at Rutgers.
- Maxx Williams might be the next great Gopher tight end.
- Northwestern looks for contributions from four freshmen.
- Answering questions about Illinois.
- Purdue's Appleby remains confident in role as backup.
- Tackle Rob Havenstein is the unchallenged leader of the Wisconsin offense.
- Dreaming of what might be at stake as Iowa hosts Nebraska on the day after Thanksgiving.
- Nebraska's Fyfe makes a strong move to earn a scholarship.
- A Penn State tradition is gone.
To that, I say let's all slow down for just a bit. Some key counterpoints to consider:
2. Ohio State isn't suddenly going to turn into a 6-6 pumpkin. There is still a ton of talent on this team. I watched an entire practice this spring in which Miller did not participate. I was still blown away by the speed and athleticism on the roster. Are the Buckeyes a top 10 team now? Maybe not. But they will still be, at the very least, a top 20 club. They're probably not a playoff team, but beating Ohio State won't be a meaningless win for other Big Ten teams, either.
3. There is more than one team in the Big Ten. Sure, the Buckeyes have been the league's flag-bearer for most of this century and have more national credibility than any other conference program. But don't forget the Buckeyes haven't won an outright Big Ten championship since 2009. There is no guarantee they would have claimed one this year, either, as Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska are all legit title contenders.
4. Let's go back to Michigan State here. The Spartans proved themselves as elite the past year, as they finished No. 3 in the final polls and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio's team goes to Oregon in Week 2 in a game that could define their season. If the Spartans win there, assuming Oregon goes on to have a very strong season, they will be formidable playoff contenders no matter what else is going on in the Big Ten. Even if, say, they lost to the Ducks by a field goal, going undefeated the rest of the way should be enough to get Michigan State into the field of four.
5. Let's say another team from the West -- such as Iowa or Wisconsin, should the Badgers beat LSU in the opener -- runs the table. Don't you think a Big Ten championship game featuring the Spartans and an undefeated West team would get the attention of the selection committee? Iowa and Nebraska probably need a zero in the loss column, while Michigan State and Wisconsin could afford a setback, given their marquee nonconference opposition. And, hey, who's to say Ohio State doesn't go 12-0 again, even without Miller? Urban Meyer has yet to lose a regular season game in Columbus, after all.
The bottom line is there are far too many variables -- including what goes on in the other Power 5 conferences -- to count the Big Ten out at this early date. The path to Pasadena (or, less likely, New Orleans) certainly got a lot bumpier with the loss of the league's best player. But the road hasn't been closed yet.
Wait a minute, Michigan State Spartans fans.
Hang on a second, Virginia Tech Hokies.
Braxton Miller's season-ending injury wasn't good for anyone. Not the Ohio State Buckeyes. Not the Big Ten. And not the inaugural College Football Playoff -- or any of Ohio State's opponents trying to get there.
Put simply: Beating a ranked Ohio State team led by a Heisman contending, veteran quarterback would carry more weight in the eyes of the 13-member playoff committee than a win against a 9-3 team led by a rookie quarterback who hasn't played in two years. (This is all assuming, of course, that J.T. Barrett will play like the redshirt rookie he is.) If Ohio State is now weaker -- a logical assumption following the injury to one of the nation's best quarterbacks -- then its opponents' strength of schedule just got weaker, too.
And so did the Big Ten.
In spite of Michigan State's ascension (not to mention its 2013 win against the Buckeyes), the Big Ten has still been measured by Ohio State in the court of public opinion. The Buckeyes had two things going for them this season: Miller and arguably the best defensive line in the country. Even with having to replace four starters on the offensive line, there was enough confidence in Urban Meyer's recruiting to consider the Buckeyes a true contender for the playoff. Now, Michigan State clearly has more answers and should be the clear-cut favorite to win the East Division, but would a win against Oregon in Week 2 be enough to propel the Spartans into the playoff?
Not if the selection committee shares the public's perception of the Big Ten, which has lost 25 of its past 33 games against ranked, power conference competition and Notre Dame. The Big Ten hasn't played for a national title since Ohio State's last appearance in 2007. As a Power Five conference, the Big Ten has been playing catch-up to the SEC (like everyone else), the Pac-12 and even the ACC, which finally raised its profile with Florida State's national title.
Virginia Tech's schedule, though, looks like a cotton ball with the exception of their visit to Ohio State in Week 2. With North Carolina the only other ranked opponent on the schedule, and seven home games, the Hokies could be one of the country's most deceiving teams come November. A road win against a full-strength Ohio State team would have shocked the country and propelled the Hokies into the playoff conversation.
Now? Strength of schedule will be called into question, but Virginia Tech isn't alone.
Should Michigan State win the East and play in the Big Ten title game, it's debatable whether a win against the West Division winner would do much to further impress the committee. The East is the stronger and more compelling race, as three teams in the West had losing records last season (Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois), and Nebraska was the only team to win its bowl game.
Fair or not, Ohio State was entering this season carrying the banner for the entire conference once again. The Buckeyes certainly aren't doomed -- there are plenty of rookie quarterback success stories for a blueprint, and Barrett could easily join them. The big picture, though, has certainly changed. After what was easily the most impactful playoff news of the summer, the Buckeyes aren't the only ones who have lost.
This year the Big Ten welcomes Maryland and Rutgers and says goodbye to the Legends and Leaders divisions in favor of the more traditional East and West. On paper, the East looks much, much stronger, but many longtime followers of the conference (including me) are happy that the Big Ten put both Ohio State and Michigan in the same division, avoiding a possible back-to-back rematch in the Big Ten title game.
Due to some advantageous conference scheduling, which sees many of the top teams avoiding one another in cross-division play, the Big Ten has six or seven teams capable of finishing in the Top 25, with two (Michigan State and Wisconsin) having legitimate shots at getting to the first College Football Playoff. While I think the Buckeyes will be competitive, I just don't see them contending for a national title without injured quarterback Braxton Miller.
Here are my 2014 projected Big Ten standings:
Big Ten East
Projected record: 11-1
Early lines on toughest games: at Oregon (plus-14), Ohio State (minus-4)
Michigan State returns seven starters on offense, led by QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford, while the defense must replace six starters, including three All-Americans. But defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who's on my preseason All-America list, returns and, most importantly, so does defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Although I have the Spartans listed as a two-touchdown underdog at Oregon in Week 2, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska all have to travel to East Lansing. I have MSU favored in every Big Ten game, as the Spartans are now the clear league favorites with Miller out for the Buckeyes.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was optimism at seemingly every turn.
Braxton Miller pronounced himself 100 percent healthy whenever he was asked over the past two months. Urban Meyer expressed some concern about the volume of his reps, but he never indicated anything was off the schedule the Ohio State coach and his staff had set out for the star quarterback. Even in the hours leading up to a practice that the Buckeyes considered critical in gauging Miller’s rehab, there were no indications from offensive coordinator Tom Herman that anything was wrong.
And although it might be tempting to suggest that Ohio State rushed Miller back and put him in danger of reinjuring his surgically repaired shoulder or to think maybe the Buckeyes knew all along he was more seriously hurt than they let on, there’s nothing to suggest that everybody involved wasn’t doing all he could to have him on track to start on Aug. 30 at Navy.
Fluke injuries happen, and there doesn’t seem to be anything the Buckeyes could have done to prevent the devastating one that struck Miller on Monday and ended his season.
“It’s just the muscle,” Miller had said after the first workout of the two-a-day session, hours before leaving the practice field under the supervision of trainers. “It’s just getting it back, that little muscle around the surgery that I wasn’t using after I had the sling and stuff. Now that I’m back using it on an everyday basis, it just gets sore.
“I was throwing full-go every other day in the summer, so right now it’s practice every day. I can’t throw every day and just blow it out, then it’s sore for the next three days. We’ve just got to take it slow.”
The Buckeyes tried to do that every step of the way after Miller went under the knife in February.
He was held out entirely of spring practice, but Herman adjusted by doubling down on mental reps by attaching a camera and microphone to Miller’s hat and having him call out protections, coverages and reads with where to deliver the football.
He was supposed to ease his way back into throwing a football during the offseason, but the progress was considered so encouraging that Miller breezed through a step that called for him to throw tennis balls in one day, impressing the training staff with his rapid recovery.
By the time Big Ten media days arrived in late July, nobody representing Ohio State, including Miller himself, thought he would miss any time.
But when training camp did arrive, despite all the optimism and repeated mentions of Miller's rehabilitation schedule, there were at least a couple of subtle signs that maybe everything wasn’t as rosy as the Buckeyes were indicating. They never made the exact details of the plan public, but Miller was limited to throwing every other day during the opening weeks of camp. He was always supposed to be limited to largely observing both scrimmages, but his absence still set off alarm bells as the start of the season crept closer without Miller showing he was as healthy on a daily basis as he had claimed to be.
The admission of soreness and Herman’s confirmation on Monday that there was a minor setback added fuel to the fire that everything wasn’t necessarily in full working order, but Ohio State still had no reason to question its approach to getting him back on the field.
“It’s hard for me to speculate,” Herman said after Monday morning's practice. “He is where he is right now not because the shoulder is injured but because the fatigue of multiple practices, practices day after day after day, 50, 60, 70 balls being thrown. The thing is going to get tired. The muscles aren’t ready for that, and we’ve got to continue to build him up.
“I think it’s too early to have that concern [of missing a game]. I think the trainers are optimistic, everything is on schedule. He had a little bit of a setback with some additional soreness that we weren’t expecting, but I’m not ready to say 'concerned' is the right word. Not yet.”
That final caveat was ominous, and Ohio State’s worst fears would soon be realized in the afternoon practice.
Maybe Miller was always going to miss some time and the Buckeyes weren’t prepared to admit it. Or, perhaps more likely, Miller, Meyer, Herman and an experienced training staff were all right when they evaluated his progress on the road back from February.
But either way, it doesn’t matter now. It’s safe to assume that Ohio State did everything it could to get Miller ready for this season, but now it’s over before it even began.
Tuesday's news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the upcoming season with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder seriously deflates the Buckeyes' hopes of making the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff. Their national championship aspirations seem all but over -- 11 days before they'll open the season against Navy in Baltimore on Aug. 30.
Miller's injury also puts a serious dent in the Big Ten's chances of having a representative in the playoff. Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, was a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite and one of the country's top returning quarterbacks.
Without Miller, the Buckeyes will have a difficult time matching their success in coach Urban Meyer's first two seasons, when they won 24 games in a row before losing to Michigan State 34-24 in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and 40-35 to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Ohio State confirmed the news on Tuesday afternoon after ESPN's Brett McMurphy and other media outlets reported earlier that Miller's injury would end his season. Miller had an MRI on his throwing shoulder in the morning.
"I'm not sure that America really understands the time, the training," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" on Wednesday morning. "You train hours upon hours upon hours. So you just see a guy that's like a member of your family go down and you're like, 'Ugh.' Your gut starts to hurt. You go over to see if he's OK. It was a tough situation."
Widely tabbed as a Heisman Trophy contender this preseason, Miller suffered the injury during a noncontact portion of practice just hours after the senior declared himself 100 percent healthy following offseason surgery to the shoulder.
Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 12 more scores in leading the Buckeyes to the Discover Orange Bowl last season.
Ranked fifth in the preseason Associated Press poll released Sunday, Ohio State is expected to be in the national title conversation.
"I told our offensive coaches that we lost a hundred yards of offense, so let's figure out how to find a hundred yards of offense that Braxton gave us every game, on his own. So we have to do that," Meyer told "Mike and Mike."
"The good thing is that when you look to your right, look to your left, it's kind of exciting. If I'm a young player, that's four more touches that I get now. We're taking the opposite approach: We're not worried about November, we're worried about tomorrow."
The reigning two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Miller first hurt the shoulder in the Orange Bowl. He had surgery that prevented him from contact in spring practice and was held out of several practices and scrimmages in August.
"I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever," said Miller, who has yet to take a redshirt season. "I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season .
"In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season."
Miller did not practice this spring and had been limited by athletic trainers and coaches in the number of throws he was making this fall.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett
Winning championships in college football no longer requires having an experienced quarterback.
Last year's BCS national title game featured a pair of teams who started a redshirt freshman (Florida State's Jameis Winston) and a junior-college transfer (Auburn's Nick Marshall) under center. Notre Dame made it to the title game the year before with a redshirt freshman quarterback (Everett Golson). Michigan State won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl last season with a first-year starting quarterback (though Connor Cook did get some valuable experience in the bowl game the previous season). Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman, just as Winston did.
That's a long-winded way of saying that Ohio State's 2014 season is not over simply because Braxton Miller is out for the year after re-injuring his throwing shoulder.
Yet that unknown is also why the entire 2014 Big Ten race has been flipped on its head after Miller's unfortunate injury. All the Las Vegas sports books and virtually every preseason prognostication hailed the Buckeyes as the league favorite based primarily on two reasons: 1) the vast potential of Ohio State's young, blue-chip talent, and 2) the presence of Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year.
Now, virtually Urban Meyer's entire team, outside of its star-studded defensive line, is made up of question marks. Remember that Ohio State was already replacing four-fifths of its starting offensive line this season, a situation seemingly made less worrisome because of Miller's ability to improvise out of the pocket. We think Ezekiel Elliott and several of the young skill players will be terrific, but there is no proven safety net along the lines of Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown. Questions also exist in the defensive back seven.
Because of all those young players in key spots, I was never quite as high on the Buckeyes as some national experts were. I thought Michigan State was just as deserving of the favorite's role, given that the Spartans beat Ohio State in last season's league title game and get to host the Buckeyes in East Lansing on Nov. 8. Now, Michigan State becomes the clear preseason favorite, in my view.
Other teams, including Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska in the West and even Michigan and Maryland in the East, have to feel slightly better today about their chances of winning the conference championship.
Still, there's no doubt that a weakened Ohio State could hurt the entire Big Ten. Fairly or not, the Buckeyes have often been viewed as the standard-bearer for the league, and they were considered prime College Football Playoff contenders for 2014. The league already faces an uphill fight against its national perception problems, and Miller's injury raises the specter of critics dismissing the Big Ten champ as a team that merely took advantage of Ohio State's problems. If the Buckeyes are not a strong, top 10 type of team, then that could take away credibility for Michigan State even if the Spartans do beat Meyer's team in East Lansing.
It's not quite as bad as 2012, when Ohio State went 12-0 on probation and a 7-5 Wisconsin team claimed the Big Ten title. But Miller's injury clearly creates an impact beyond Columbus.
Don't expect the Buckeyes to collapse -- at least by their lofty standards -- as they did in 2011, when the tattoo scandal prompted the firing of coach Jim Tressel and the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the offseason. This team remains supremely talented, blessed with arguably more speed and athleticism than Meyer had in his first two years (when he went a mere 24-2). If Barrett can work through his growing pains in some early-season tests, including Navy in the opener and Virginia Tech in Week 2, Ohio State could still roll through the first half of its schedule. Presumably, a battle-tested Barrett would then be far more ready to take on second-half challenges at Penn State, at Michigan State and against Michigan.
But the key is that these are all hypothetical propositions, and Ohio State has no sure things any longer at its most important position. Because of that, the entire Big Ten looks a lot different than it did 24 hours ago.
Week 1: Take Your Pick
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
7:58 1st Qtr Youngstown State 0 Illinois 0 Delayed Indiana State Indiana 11:38 1st Qtr Northern Iowa 3 Iowa 7 6:33 1st Qtr Appalachian State 0 Michigan 7 8:16 1st Qtr 5 Ohio State 0 Navy 0 7:45 1st Qtr Western Michigan 0 Purdue 7 3:30 PM ET Florida Atlantic 22 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern
3:30 PM ET James Madison Maryland
9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU Final Penn State 26 UCF 24
Final Eastern Illinois 20 Minnesota 42 Final Rutgers 41 Washington State 38