How Braxton Miller's Injury Hurts Ohio State's BCS Chances

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2013

Braxton Miller has thrown all of 24 passes this season, injuring his knee on the team's second drive against San Diego State and sitting out the next two-plus games, including Saturday's non-conference finale against Florida A&M, according to ESPN's Austin Ward. 

In his stead, experienced backup Kenny Guiton has developed into something of a mythic figure, leading the Buckeye offense with efficiency that's normally reserved for a starter. Prior to the Florida A&M game—his second consecutive start—he'd completed 41 of 61 passes for 449 yards, seven touchdowns and just one pick.

The developing notion in Columbus is that this is a good thing. Buckeyes fans have talked themselves into a "no harm, no foul" approach with Miller's injury, claiming that so long as he returns soon, the development of Guiton as a bona fide insurance option has been worth the lost reps.

It's also allowed supporting cast members like Devin Smith and Jordan Hall to step into the limelight and improve, which should give the team a more confident group of skill-position guys down the road.

But in truth, even if/when he comes back healthy, the time Miller missed will hurt more than his (now non-existent) Heisman hopes. It might put OSU's entire season in jeopardy.

Ohio State is better than every team on its schedule—not just at the quarterback position but up and down the roster. By that token, the Buckeyes should be (and are) able to win every one of their games.

But the Buckeyes were similarly talented last year, and though they did finish undefeated, doing so required some late-game heroics from Miller. They didn't dominate every team on their schedule, needing Miller to create fourth-quarter plays with his arm and legs against teams like Cal and Michigan State.

Despite the talent discrepancy that once again exists this year, OSU can't expect to roll through every game on its schedule. There will be more than one game that comes down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In order to win those games, Miller will need to (once again) be in rare form.

Aug 31, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) is treated by a member of the training staff after a play against the Buffalo Bulls at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 40-20. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODA
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

And in order to be in rare form, Miller needs to be in rare form.

The circumstance is obviously (much, much, much) more severe, but look no further than Robert Griffin III with the Washington Redskins this year. Part of his early-season struggles have been mechanical, but they have also occurred due to rust. He didn't get any preseason reps, and his lack of form has shown palpable signs as a result.

Miller hasn't eased into midseason form against SDSU, Cal and Florida A&M. His veritable preseason has been lost to a bum knee. And now, assuming he comes back next week, he won't get to shake off the cobwebs against a cupcake.

He'll have to shake them off against Wisconsin.

One week after the Wisconsin game is a trip to Evanston, where the Buckeyes will play a very good Northwestern team—perhaps the best on their schedule—that always plays them well. No two-game stretch poses a bigger threat to Ohio State's BCS chances, and OSU will have either a backup or a rusty starter under the gun.

That could be a problem.

Especially in this year's Big Ten, which struggled mightily last week, going undefeated is requisite to Ohio State's BCS National Championship aspirations. If the Buckeyes slip up, even just once, there will likely be no way to make up for that blemish.

If Ohio State wants to reach its goal, the team needs to be perfect. If the team wants to be perfect, Braxton Miller needs to be on point. And if Braxton Miller wants to be on point, he (probably) needs to ramp up and regain his footing.

Will Wisconsin be able to make him pay?