- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The top individual goal on Braxton Miller's list for this season was already within reach a year ago, at least relative to the rest of college football.
Only four people stood between the Ohio State quarterback and a bronze statue at the end of last season, and the list is even shorter according to the preseason poll of ESPN experts.
The first Heisman Watch of the season was unveiled Thursday, and after finishing fifth in the final, official voting as a sophomore, the expectations are even higher now with Miller earning four first-place votes and sliding in at No. 2 behind South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney -- and just ahead of last year's winner, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
Miller admitted just before training camp opened that claiming the Heisman was on his to-do list this year, and he's also aware of the conversations about his candidacy. But if he's going to rise up a spot and take his team from its own No. 2 ranking in the coaches' poll to the top of the chart along with him, the trick will be managing all the hype and attention around him.
"I see it, I hear it," Miller said. "But I really don’t pay too much attention to it, because if you pay too much attention to it, you lose focus about what’s important for your team and yourself.
"I see it on ESPN sometimes, I’ll hear it and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I just have to get better to achieve that goal."
Based on the early reviews during training camp, the Buckeyes have a much improved Miller on their hands, one much better equipped to put up better numbers in the passing game and make a legitimate run at the Heisman.
The praise has come from all corners, with teammates lauding his communication and leadership, assistants raving about the steps he's taken mechanically and coach Urban Meyer going out of his way to compare how far Miller has come since the end of last season.
Given Miller's otherworldly speed and acceleration as a rushing threat, stacking all those other components on top of it and playing in Meyer's spread system suited to his strengths could produce both the statistics and the record needed to make a Heisman dream a reality.
"I don’t want to give him an 'A' yet, but he’s doing 'A' work," Meyer said. "The offense really struggled early in a scrimmage [Saturday], and he just kind of started managing it. It wasn’t always a coach managing it.
"He’s really building in that respect. And if he does, that’s a special player."
There's a trophy for players of that caliber, obviously. Heading into the season, the pollsters only one see one guy standing in the way of hoisting it.