September 20, 2012

Meyer not ready to endorse Miller for Heisman

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - After just the first game of the season, Urban Meyer's thoughts on a potential Braxton Miller Heisman Trophy campaign were unmistakable.

"Oh, gosh," the Ohio State coach said, when notified that his quarterback was already receiving Heisman talk from analysts after he threw for 207 yards, ran for 161 yards, and tallied three total touchdowns against Miami (OH). "There will be no discussion of that. I think he's one of those freaks of nature that has a lot of ability and great things can happen to him. But there won't be billboards posted anywhere or anything like that."

But after three games under Meyer, any Miller-for-Heisman talk has only gained steam.

The Buckeyes' signal-caller leads the Big Ten in rushing with 377 yards, and looks much improved as a passer, throwing for 611 yards while completing 61.5 percent of his passes. Miller has accounted for 12 of OSU's 17 touchdowns this season, throwing for seven and adding five more on the ground.

In the Buckeyes' win over California on Saturday, Miller threw for career highs of 249 yards and four touchdowns. The sophomore quarterback also ran for 75 yards against the Bears- 55 of which came on a highlight reel worthy touchdown scamper, which seems to have become a staple of the OSU offense this season.

With one-fourth of his first season as the Buckeyes' head coach in the books, Meyer still isn't ready to endorse his star quarterback for college football's most prestigious award. But he's not saying he won't, either.

"I don't believe he is now. He's not playing well enough yet," Meyer said. "At the appropriate time I won't say he's not."

Given Meyer's lofty expectations for his quarterbacks and the fact that the Buckeyes still have nine games left- including three against teams currently ranked in the top 25- that might be the closest thing to an endorsement from Meyer that Miller could hope for. But if Miller continues on the track he's on, it's hard to imagine that the Huber Heights, Ohio native won't wind up in New York in December as a Heisman finalist.

Extrapolated over 12 games, Miller's current pace would leave him with 2,444 passing yards, 1,508 rushing yards, and 48 total touchdowns (28 passing, 20 rushing). While he'd have less passing yards, that would leave him with three more touchdowns, and more than twice as many rushing yards than Baylor's Robert Griffin III had when he won last season's Heisman Trophy.

Miller wouldn't be Meyer's first quarterback to wind up in New York with a chance at- or to win- the award for college football's most outstanding player.

In 2004, Utah quarterback Alex Smith headed to New York as a Heisman finalist under Meyer, with totals of 2,952 passing yards, 631 rushing yards, and 42 total touchdowns. Three seasons later at Florida, Tim Tebow became the first Meyer-coached player to win the Heisman Trophy, with 3,286 passing yards, 895 rushing yards, and 55 total touchdowns. The former Florida quarterback was also named a finalist for the award in 2008 and 2009.

But while Miller's fast start and a recent trend in award voting- four of the last six Heisman Trophy winners have been dual-threat quarterbacks- are working in the OSU quarterback's favor, there are still roadblocks for the Wayne high school product to overcome before he becomes the first Buckeye to win the award since Troy Smith in 2006.

For one, voters may be hesitant to recognize a player on a team that is ineligible to play in any sort of postseason bowl. And then there's the fact that continuing on his current pace will be easier said than done.

For every game from here on out, stopping Miller will be the primary focus of each opposing defense he faces. Not that he hasn't been already.

"I've seen defenses in the last three weeks that I've never even dreamt of in my mind to try to stop the QB from running the football," OSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. "The variety of coverages that we see on first and second down is absolutely mind-boggling."

So far, Miller's done a good enough job against such defenses to keep his name in consideration for college football's most prestigious award. And while the road to New York's only going to get tougher for him once Big Ten play starts in a week, Meyer likes what he's seen from his quarterback- even if he isn't ready to campaign for him to win any awards just yet.

"I am pleased with his progress. He was a much different player than he was a year ago," Meyer said. "I do think he's on schedule."


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