Braxton Miller has a closet full of personal hardware. Two Silver Footballs, multiple Big Ten offensive player of the year trophies, Ohio State team MVP. The awards go on and on. What he doesn’t have is a Big Ten championship – or a bowl victory of any kind.
The senior quarterback’s legacy is on firm footing. But there are still some aspects to be determined. He was flashy, productive and won games. Championships, though? That will be decided in December and onward.
“He went 12-0, but he needs a championship. I think most great players are measured by championships, whether it be the NFL, NBA or college football,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “And he knows that. You don’t have to have much of a conversation with him about that. He’s a very-intelligent guy, and he gets it.”
The spotlight has burned brightly on Miller since he was a can’t-miss recruit in football-mad Ohio. During his courtship, Meyer’s Florida Gators became one of the leaders for Miller’s services. Ultimately, he stayed home to play for the Buckeyes. A few months later, Meyer resigned from his post in Gainesville.
It just so happens Meyer was working for ESPN when Miller made his debut for the Buckeyes. Meyer didn’t hide his feelings that afternoon in 2011. Ohio State beat an overmatched Akron team 42-0 in what would be a losing season. Miller finished 8-of-12 passing for 130 yards with a touchdown pass against the Zips.
“A lot of anxious people in Buckeye Nation are ready to watch this guy play,” Meyer said during the ESPN broadcast. “Dynamic player coming out of high school. I remember recruiting him myself. He was dynamic with the ball in his hands. [He was] one of the best athletes in the country last year.
“There’s no sense in waiting on this one. Let the guy play. Find out what he can do.”
In a losing season – the Buckeyes finished 6-7 – Miller became the focal point of the future. Through the mounting losses and frustrating play, it was Miller who provided hope for better days. And he’s delivered.
As a true freshman, Miller completed 54 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns four interceptions. His completion percentage has gone from 58 percent as a sophomore to 63.5 percent as a junior. Miller threw for more than 2,000 yards both seasons and combined for 39 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. In the past two seasons, Miller is 22-2 as the starter – 26-8 in his career.
“It’s been up and down,” Miller said. “We’re going to be remembered as a champion this year, though.”
The confidence is admirable, and it isn’t foolish. Despite deep loses on the offensive line and in the backfield, Ohio State’s offense isn’t expected to take a big step back. The passing game is an area that’s poised to rise, thanks to Miller’s continuing progression and a veteran receiving corps. After offseason shoulder surgery, Miller’s back to 100 percent.
“The volume is what we have to be aware of,” Meyer said. “He wasn’t as sharp [Monday]. When he got a little bit tired, he started raising his left shoulder a little bit, but he’ll be fine. His attitude is tremendous, and he’s in the best shape of his life.”
The burden of expectations has never fazed Miller. He was calm when he started as a freshman and he was never flustered after Ohio State fell behind by 17 points in the Big Ten Championship Game. Experience at Division I high school readied Miller for what he would face up the road in Columbus.
It’s always a win-every-game mentality for the Buckeyes, so Miller isn’t tasked with a new outlook on 2014. It just happens to be now or never. If he builds on last season, a year he was tops in the Big Ten in numerous passing categories, Ohio State could be in line for another undefeated regular season.
“I think it’s our time coming,” Miller said. “I think this year we’ve got a grasp as a whole team. We understand what we’re doing to reach a high peak.”
At the top of Ohio State’s quarterback mountain sits Rex Kern and Craig Krenzel, two national champions. Troy Smith is a notch lower, but still one of the most beloved players in program history. Miller has an opportunity to reach the apex. Not only could he rewrite the Ohio State record book; Miller is presented with a chance to combine all his personal triumphs into a team-earned championship.
“I’ve met a couple of my goals,” Miller said, “but I still have a lot that sit on the table that I've got to scoop up. I have to make sure we’re going to do it this year.”
The first series of Miller’s career was uneventful, resulting in a three-and out and featuring a poor third-down snap by Mike Brewster. That didn’t mean glimpses of stutter steps and long touchdown passes were absent.
As Miller trotted back to the sideline, former Buckeye Chris Spielman, calling the game alongside Meyer for ESPN, said, “I can promise you this: there will be much more exciting series in Braxton Miller’s future.”
But will there be a championship?