Don’t count Ohio State out of the NCAA playoff run just yet.
Despite losing Heisman candidate Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder re-injury, the Buckeyes still have a chance at making the first ever college football playoffs. Yes, getting past new conference powerhouse Michigan State and their nation’s best defense will be tougher without Miller’s versatility. But preparation and depth are two of coach Urban Meyer’s signature characteristics, and the Buckeyes have plenty of depth but more importantly experienced depth.
Through most of spring training camp until now, it seemed as if redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones was slated to play backup to Miller in case the current scenario presented itself; Meyer ultimately chose redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett as Miller’s successor.
“(Barrett) has moved slightly ahead of (Jones) in the quarterback derby,” Meyer said Aug. 16. “That is because of his opportunities…he has grown up a little bit.”
According to co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Tom Herman, Barrett makes the offense move more frequently which shows that they can still play high caliber football, even while transitioning from Miller. He also has a leg up on Miller in that he had an extra year to learn the college game from the sideline instead of being thrust onto the field and having to learn through trial and error.
Though Barrett may not be as good a runner or a passer as Miller, his athleticism and quality skill set will work to his advantage in Miller’s absence. Meyer said Barrett has thrown 300 times against a full-force live defense, which definitely prepares him for real-time game scenarios.
Ohio State’s offensive line will need to step up even more this year to make sure Barrett is well protected. Even more importantly, the running game will need to be nothing less than on point to ensure that Barrett will have time to survey his options on the field and avoid third-and-long scenarios as much as possible.
To ensure that all of this will work, the defense will need to help keep Barrett and the offense in games by holding teams to low scores. The Buckeyes’ playoff hopes are not dead, but they’ll need to show up and show out if they plan to keep those hopes alive sans Miller.
*Section Photo credit to Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports