After his senior season was sunk by a mangled throwing shoulder, Braxton Miller, the star quarterback who carried the Ohio State Buckeyes for three years, returns for one final hurrah in 2015.
But what will his role be?
In a matter of three months, Miller went from being a program centerpiece whose season-ending shoulder injury was described as a "day of mourning" by head coach Urban Meyer to somewhat of an afterthought as backups J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones lit up opposing defenses en route to the program’s first national championship in more than a decade.
Yet when the team celebrated its title triumph in front of 45,000 fans at Ohio Stadium last month, Miller came out from those unusual shadows to a crowd that roared, “ONE MORE YEAR! ONE MORE YEAR!” as he sauntered to the podium to address them.
“It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of the national championship team in 2014,” he said.
“But guess what: We’ve got another year to do it.”
For Miller, these were his first public comments since going down 12 days before the season opener in August. They also seemed to address speculation that Miller might transfer to another school for his final season of eligibility amidst a crowded quarterback room in Columbus
Instead, it looks like Miller is coming back to Ohio State.
But will the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year be the starter?
You've all seen Braxton Miller play, so there's not a lot in this passage that you don't already know. In Meyer's first two seasons, Ohio State's offense revolved around Miller. He was the fulcrum of its success.
Before his injury, Miller was arguably the best dual-threat quarterback behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota. In his three years as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback, he had improved as a passer and this past season was supposed to be a final showcase of such an evolution.
As a runner, Miller might be the best in the country. He makes things look like a video game, whether it's his breakaway speed or the way he cuts, jukes and shifts while sprinting away and around defenders. You've seen it; it's pretty ridiculous. I'd go as far as to say he's a once in a lifetime type of talent in this regard.
Before the start of last season, Miller was fourth in wins by a starting quarterback (26), fourth in touchdown passes (52) and ninth in passing yards (5,292). He also ranks seventh in rushing yards (3,054) and has scored 32 rushing touchdowns.
This one is sort of obvious, but the biggest knock on Miller is probably his health and whether or not his shoulder — which has now been surgically repaired twice since last February — will ever be the same.
For Miller, durability has long been an issue. In 2012, he was carried away on a stretcher after taking a big hit against Purdue. In 2013, Miller missed the better part of three games after spraining his MCL. In the Orange Bowl against Clemson, Miller's shoulder was so badly injured that he needed surgery, which left him in a state of recovery last spring.
Last summer, before hundreds of reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Meyer opened his question-answer session by declaring Miller was healthy and in “the best shape of his life." He added, "I know I’ll get asked that question."
A month later, Miller's season was over it before it began and Ohio State championship hopes were suddenly up in the air.
Miller's in an incredibly unusual and frankly somewhat unfair spot of being a Heisman Trophy-caliber player charged with earning back a job he owned for three seasons.
Once the face of the Buckeyes, Miller offered hope of better days during a dismal 6-7 campaign in 2011 and guided Ohio State to a 24-2 record in Meyer's first two seasons in Columbus. That so many of those games were won by Miller's various heroics make it hard to believe that he's fighting for the right to be the face of Meyer's program once again.
Yet that's the situation Miller finds himself in, and it's a predicament that will likely depend on the health of his shoulder, which has hampered him for the last year.
If he can overcome that, Miller's got a fighting chance to reassert himself as the starting quarterback. There's a reason, after all, he claimed all those accolades in the first place.