Every morning, before the dreaded running portion of winter workouts, the Ohio State football team came together to watch itself fall apart.
“We gotta get motivated early in the morning and watch a video of the team that we lost to,” Braxton Miller said in February.
Watch. Workout. Rewind. Watch. Workout. Rewind.
“It’s a chip on our shoulder,” he said.
Of course it is. After winning a ridiculous 24-straight games and nearly sealing a berth to its first national championship game in six seasons, the Buckeyes collapsed in the worst way.
But of all the people to be so very open and honest of how losses to Clemson and, especially, Michigan State, left a searing pain deep inside the Buckeyes, Miller is the least likely candidate.
On the field, the senior quarterback is one of college football’s most electrifying players. Off of it, he’s shy and quiet with reporters. He’s a man of few words. He likes to play coy.
Here, though, Miller, unprompted, chose to ever-so-slightly peel back the curtain covering a team still intensively operating on its open wounds.
In March, coach Urban Meyer vowed to restore the fundamentals of a culture that started to crumble and continues to play a role in an “overhaul” of a defense that came undone last year.
With the promise of a new season and a new start nearing closer each day, there has been healing. But scars remain. How couldn’t they?
Still, Ohio State finds itself as again a favorite to win the Big Ten title and a watery schedule in a struggling league gives the Buckeyes a real chance at an ascent back to being a step or two from the sport’s zenith.
That chip on the shoulder Miller talks of will help, too. It’s motivation. The way he plays in his final year of eligibility should be an embodiment of it.
Because if there’s one person who can guide Ohio State to college football’s mecca, it’s the kid from Huber Heights.
“He’s got to be a defensive coordinator’s nightmare,” college football guru Phil Steele told Eleven Warriors.
There are few players of his caliber and perhaps fewer who can sway the outcome of a game and even an entire season like he can.
It’s why a world without Braxton Miller is, and will continue to be, a terrifying thought for the Buckeyes.
Don’t take that the wrong way: Miller’s the epicenter of Ohio State’s success and has been for most of his career. He’s also proven himself to be injury prone, missing part of a game against Purdue in 2012 (head/neck injury) and nearly three full games (San Diego State, California, Florida A&M) in 2013 with a sprained MCL.
“Braxton Miller’s style has led to some injuries, we’ve seen him come out of games every single year,” Steele said. “Can Braxton Miller stay healthy?”
Worst case, assume he doesn’t.
Could the Buckeyes win without him? Probably.
Could they win enough to capture a Big Ten or national title? That’s harder to say.
Miller, who’s been a bailout for the Buckeyes since he arrived in Columbus, had a bailout himself last season with a historically powerful run game. Backup quarterback and fan favorite Kenny Guiton was a security blanket too.
Without Guiton, Carlos Hyde and an offensive line that’ll go down as one of the school’s best, Ohio State’s offensive margin for error has plummeted. Miller could make mistakes last season. They could be mitigated.
This season, he returns to a largely inexperienced supporting cast and a pair of backups in Cardale Jones and J.T Barrett, who combined for a sloppy 277 yards on 31-of-64 attempts during the team’s Spring Game in April.
One game without Miller could cost Ohio State in a season where one loss will more than likely derail its hopes at a bid in the postseason’s new four-team playoff.
That won’t do much to vindicate a season that started with replaying video tapes over and over of what was and what could’ve been.