Most coaches would kill to have one star quarterback. Ohio State has two.
This would seem like a non-issue for most, especially those who revert to the “you can never have too many good quarterbacks” script. Urban Meyer might agree with that statement when in front of a microphone, but on the inside, he’s dreading the inevitable conversation that awaits him come January when he addresses the underlying problem at hand: Who will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2015?
“First time in football history that when a coach says he has two good quarterbacks, he’s actually telling the truth,” Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch told me via direct message on Twitter.
Will it be Braxton Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, who is considered one of the most dangerous and explosive college athletes of all time? Or will it be J.T. Barrett, the current redshirt freshman that has filled in and then some during Miller’s absence, going 8-1 as a starter and is currently fourth among all active FBS quarterbacks in Total QBR (84.0)?
Less than two months ago, that was an easy question to answer: Miller was undoubtedly Meyer’s guy.
“Braxton is our quarterback,” Meyer said on September 29, following the Buckeyes’ 50-28 win over in-state rival Cincinnati. “To be fair to Braxton, Big Ten Player of the Year. But it’s good to know we’ve got both of them.”
That was two games after Ohio State’s crippling 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in the Horseshoe, where Barrett went 9-of-29 with three crucial interceptions.
Since then, Barrett has grown into a formidable quarterback and has full reign over the complex spread-option playbook, completing 68.3 of his passes with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions (both against Penn State). He’s led OSU’s offense to 49 points or more in six of those seven games, including last week’s monumental victory over the then-No. 8 Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing.
In other words, Meyer’s approach to the offseason has shifted gears.
“Competition brings out the best, and I’m really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year,” Meyer said during his weekly news conference. “That’s the plan. I think they’re both excellent quarterbacks. Excellent quarterbacks. And we’ll worry about that day when it comes.”
That day will be here before we know it, and if Meyer respects Miller as a person, it will be no longer than 24 hours after the 2014 season ends. And what will he do?
What if Ohio State beats Minnesota on Saturday, wins the Big Ten Championship Game, and then wins the Rose Bowl? Or what if the Buckeyes somehow sneak into the College Football Playoff? How can you tell Barrett, “Hey, good job this season, but you know, you’re still the backup. This will be your team in 2016.”
You don’t. You can’t.
Even if Ohio State loses the Big Ten title game, bowl game, or first-round playoff game, the way Barrett has rapidly progressed throughout the season is enough to believe he will be better with a full offseason as the starting quarterback, and should be given that title.
It’s no disrespect to Miller at all—I wish that he had never suffered that injury in the Orange Bowl against Clemson and was healthy for his senior season. He’s arguably the best playmaker in college football and likely would have led the Buckeyes to win against Virginia Tech in Week 2. Who know’s what position Ohio State would be in right now had none of this ever happened.
But if you love something, you must set it free. Unless radical regression occurs and Ohio State loses the rest of its games, Urban Meyer will have to tell Braxton this:
Either you enter the 2015 NFL Draft, become the best backup in college football next season, serve as a rotating H-back, or transfer somewhere outside of the Big Ten.
Considering he’s probably a sixth-round pick at this point due to durability issues and the everlasting question on whether he’s an accurate enough passer—especially with downfield passes—Miller’s likely option will be to leave the school he loves and do what’s best for his professional career.
“You hate to see a kid leave his school,” said Bleacher Report NFL draft lead analyst Matt Miller. “But for his career, I think the best thing would be going to somewhere that’s going to run a little bit more of a pro-style offense and where he would get on the field right away.”
Miller, who is graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in Communications this December, could take advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule and be eligible to start immediately wherever he ends up.
If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is; former N.C. State quarterback and three-year starter Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin (which ran a pro-style system) after being pushed out by then-coach Tim O’Brien and rising junior Mike Glennon (who now is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
That decision allowed Wilson to tweak his game, tune his mechanics, and establish himself as an NFL-ready quarterback—as evidenced by his professional resume.
“Oh, no. I can’t even imagine that,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said, when asked of the possibilities of Miller leaving this offseason.
The second Barrett combined for 386 yards and five total touchdowns against Michigan State, it became his team. And though that is completely out of Miller’s power, which is unfortunate, it is the truth.
At this point, it shouldn’t be about the non-existent competition that supposedly to take place during fall camp when Miller is cleared, but rather what Meyer can do to support him and make sure he’s set up for a successful life when leaving Columbus.
That said, a new question will arise come spring: Where will Braxton Miller play in 2015?