Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Braxton Miller Loss May Not Sink Buckeyes' Title Hopes

Mark Blaudschun@@blaudsCollege Football National ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

To hear most pundits, Ohio State's season is over before it begins.   

The Final Four?

Forget about it.

A conference crown?


A Top 10 ranking?

If it's lucky.   

That's largely been the chatter following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by starting quarterback Braxton Miller last week.

I'm not buying the premise.

The boys in Las Vegas dropped the odds of Ohio State winning the national championship from 12-1 to 50-1.

I'll take those odds. Apparently, lots of people did as well since the Buckeyes have now been slotted at a more reasonable 20-1.

There is little doubt that last week was a tough day for many football fans in Columbus.

"A devastating blow," said Yahoo Sports' highly respected columnist Pat Forde, per Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. Also according to May, a similar sentiment was expressed by former Ohio State QB and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who picked OSU to win the national championship but then backed off after the injury to Miller.

It's an awfully long limb to go out on to predict a national championship for the Buckeyes with unproven redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett (yes, I know what Jameis Winston was) at the helm, but the landscape is different this season.

With a four-team playoff, the Buckeyes do not need to climb to No. 1 or No. 2 to be in the mix.

Even so, it's not difficult to see that by Halloween, the Buckeyes could be 7-0 and sitting very comfortably in the No. 5 slot they occupied in the AP preseason rankings before Miller's injury.

Look at the OSU schedule: Navy (in Baltimore), Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati (in Columbus), at Maryland, Rutgers (in Columbus), at Penn State. See any monsters?

And ponder this: When was the last time any Urban Meyer-coached team didn't pay attention, especially in the first game of the season? That's a rhetorical question.

Despite losing Miller, the Buckeyes still have as much talent as any team in the Big Ten, thanks to three straight Rivals top-five recruiting classes (2012-14), a revamped defense led by returning linebacker Joshua Perry and defensive end Noah Spence, and a coach with two national titles to his credit.

Oh, they might struggle a bit as they get used to an offense being run (for now) by the untested Barrett. And there might be some shaky moments against Navy at the start, but this upset is not going to happen on Saturday, even with the Midshipmen riding a season-ending five-game winning streak and the Buckeyes trying to erase the memory of a loss in the Big Ten title game—and the Orange bowl.

After what could be a somewhat ugly win, Ohio State is likely to get better each week as the experience factor kicks in. If they are undefeated by Halloween, the Buckeyes will be very much in contention to be playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and in Dallas two weeks later.

The secret lies in Urban Meyer's track record with quarterbacks.

At Utah, he inherited a young QB named Alex Smith, who had thrown only four career passes when Meyer arrived. With Meyer running the show, Smith piled up 5,200 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, while only throwing seven interceptions.

At Florida, Meyer helped sign nine QBs in six seasons with the Gators. This included Tim Tebow, who would win a Heisman and is in the discussion as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

Meyer won a national championship with Tebow at QB. He also won a national championship with Chris Leak as the Gators QB.

In short, where Meyer goes, quarterbacks prosper.

At his first weekly press conference this week, Meyer talked about the future—Barrett—rather than the past (for now) Miller.

"[Barrett]'s a calm guy," said Meyer. "He's not someone you have to watch to see they're [sic] demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago. We all know what's coming down the barrel at him, but he's handled it very well."

So has Meyer, many times before. For three years, he has upgraded the talent at Ohio State. With or without Miller, Ohio State will be a factor in the national championship derby.


Tale of two programs

It was the best of times and the worst of times for two SEC programs in their season opener.

A year ago, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney eliminated himself as a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy with a lackluster performance in the Gamecocks' 27-10 pre-Labor Day win over North Carolina.

Fast-forward to Thursday night in Columbia, South Carolina, and the Gamecocks, boosted by three consecutive 11-win seasons, kicked off the 2014 season against a Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M team as 10.5-point favorites.

They came into the game ranked ninth (in the AP poll) with visions of an SEC title dancing in their heads. The Aggies were ranked 21st.

Final score: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28.

Say goodbye to the Gamecocks as national championship contenders. The Gamecocks could well win the rest of their games, but the memory of this beating—and it was very much thatwill stick.

Oh, they could still make the Final Four with 11 wins during the regular season and a victory in the SEC title game, but there were few indications defensively against A&M that the Gamecocks were capable of making such a run.

A year ago, the Gamecocks gave up more than 31 points only once all seasona 41-30 loss to Georgia. On Thursday night, they allowed 31 by the end of the first half.

Say hello to the Aggies as a dark-horse contender in the same way Auburn emerged a year ago when the Tigers went from unranked to SEC champion before barely losing to FSU in the BCS title game.

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill made his debut as Johnny Football's replacement and immediately superseded him in the Aggies record book for most passing yards in a game (511) as he connected on 44 of 60 attempts, including three touchdowns.

The Aggies likely will see a boost in their rankings over the next four games before hitting the road at Mississippi State and beginning a three-game stretch that includes Ole Miss and Alabama. They also have to deal with Auburn and LSU in November.

For all the Aggies' win could mean for both schools, the immediate lesson is clear regarding the SEC, which had a record eight teams ranked in the AP preseason Top 25. When voters cast their ballots, they should merely put in SEC-1 or SEC-5 or SEC-8 instead of a school name, because every team in this conference seems interchangeable.

And in the wild SEC, anything seems possible.


Milestone victory

In case you missed it, Georgia State opened its season Wednesday night with a 38-37 win over transitional FCS opponent Abilene Christian.

What's the big deal? The win snapped a 16-game losing streak and was Georgia State's first victory ever at the FBS level. The Panthers were 0-12 in their transitional season to the FBS level.

And in the "whatever happened to" department, former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator and former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski started his second season as the Georgia State offensive coordinator in fine fashion, as the Panthers piled up 566 yards in total offense.


"Watch out" game for FSU?

Recent history suggests the defending national champions had better be careful in their season opener against Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

If you don't believe me, here's what Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said in his media conference call this week.

"We have to play a great Oklahoma State team, Mike Gundy is a great football coach. He's been there for nine years and has done a great job. He's won 41 games the last four years. He had a 10-win season last year. A couple years ago (he was) a game away from playing for it all. ... They have great players."

That's four "greats," which is a lot this early in the season, even for Fisher.

Let's look at reality. The Vegas odds list No. 1-ranked FSU as an 18-point favorite. The OSU defense only returns four starters from last season to deal with the Heisman Trophy-winning Winston and his friends.

Still, this will not be a Cupcake U game for FSU; that comes next week against The Citadel. But it doesn't look like all that much heavy lifting for the Seminoles. The game also will give them a chance to get used to the surroundings in the stadium where the national championship will be held in January.

Of course, if Florida State doesn't win, a return visit to Texas will be much more problematic.


Easing into the season?

If you are Clemson Tigers fan, take a long look at that No. 16 AP preseason ranking and cherish it. The team that won 32 games over the past three seasons is gone. Also missing are the starting quarterback, running back and wide receivers.

And those weren't just any starting QB or wide receiver, but the heart of the Tigers offense the past few years in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd set a career ACC record for touchdown passes; Watkins was a first-round pick (No. 4) of the Buffalo Bills.

The new Tigers won't have the luxury of easing into the season. After Saturday's opening game at No. 12 Georgia, a trip to Tallahassee to play No. 1 FSU awaits Sept. 20.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who is rebuilding with lots of talent—their top three recruits are Rivals 5-star QB Deshaun Watson and 4-star wide receivers Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson—took an optimistic view of a tough schedule.

"You'd play Georgia every year, South Carolina every year and your conference schedule – you get through that and then nobody could say you didn't play anybody," Swinney said in the ACC teleconference this week.

You’d play Georgia every year, South Carolina every year and your conference schedule – you get through that and then nobody could say you didn’t play anybody


Game of the Weak

Western Michigan at Purdue—bet you missed this one, didn't you?

No it's not South Carolina vs. Texas A&M, nor is it Miami-Louisville. But here's the fun part: Purdue anchored the Big Ten—and we do mean anchor—last season with a 1-11 record. Western Michigan co-anchored the MACwhich had its share of bottom feeders with Miami of Ohio (0-12), UMass (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (2-10)last season with a matching 1-11 mark.

For entertainment purposes only, Purdue is an 11-point favorite.

Pick: Purdue 35, Western Michigan 31.


You've got to be kidding

1. Success in college football is based on a lot of things, including what is known as the "arms" race—facilities and amenities. But as our buddy Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times pointed out this week, Oregon—backed up by Phil Knight's money—is the runaway leader.

Consider some of the features of the $68-million, 145,000-square-foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, which go above and beyond normal:

  • Barber shop
  • German-made lockers, which cost $26,000 each
  • A locker room ventilation system that purifies the air of all smells associated with a football locker room
  • Wallpaper made of real football pigskin

A barbershop? Wonder why the traditional red-and-white pole is not green and yellow.

2. USC wide receiver Josh Shaw leaps from a second-floor balcony, injures both of his ankles as he saves his seven-year-old nephew, who cannot swim and has fallen into a swimming pool.

Wow. Great story, right? Only problem is it was just that: a story that Shaw made up, according to Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times

Here's a more embarrassing part for USC. The "story" was not generated by any news outlet. It came from USC's own website, which obviously didn't do much of a vetting process.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian has suspended Shaw from all team activities as the team, and police, investigate what really happened.

3. Tennessee is recruiting a defensive tackle named Shy Tuttle and Photoshopped a cover of Rolling Stone with a picture of Tuttle and pop star Beyonce walking together.

4. Tulane opened its season on Thursday night against Tulsa with a freshman long snapper named Aaron Golub on the depth chart who is legally blind. Golub was born with no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left eye.


Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.


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