It’s official: Braxton Miller to miss 2014 season

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O-H!  UH-OH!!!

Unfortunately for Ohio State and the fans of its football team, their worst fears have been realized as OSU announced today that, as widely expected, starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire 2014 season.  Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year reinjured his right(throwing) shoulder during practice Monday, with at least a couple of reports indicating that the he suffered a dislocated shoulder on a throw in which there was no contact.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”

Other than he reinjured the same shoulder, the school declined to acknowledge the specific nature of the injury. They did allow that it was a non-contact play and the injury will require surgery to repair.

There is not timetable as of yet for surgery or a return to football activities.

Former Ohio State All-American wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was at yesterday’s practice, “said the injury to Braxton occurred on a rollout throwing a short pass toward the sideline.”

“He didn’t even get hit,” a source told Pete Thamel of SI.com. “He threw and it’s just a freakish thing. Everyone is scratching their head on how it happened.” Thamel added that Miller suffered a torn labrum, not a dislocation of his shoulder.

The injury didn’t go unnoticed all across college football and by former teammates.  And Las Vegas.

There was some good news, at least for now, amidst the gloom as Miller revealed that he will return to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.  Miller is a fourth-year senior and has yet to use a redshirt.

He’ll use one this year and then, if he does return — he could change his mind and enter the 2015 NFL draft — he’ll be a fifth-year senior who would be poised to again lead his beloved Buckeyes.

“I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” said Miller, who is 26-8 as a starter, including 24-2 the past two seasons, in his statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”

That’s the future, though. The present is what currently matters most to OSU.

JT Barrett
JT Barrett

With the end of Miller’s season officially finalized, the Buckeyes will turn to, at least initially, J.T. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman had been in a battle throughout spring practice and on into summer camp with sophomore Cardale Jones to be Miller’s backup, only just recently moving into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Both Barrett and Jones received extensive work during the 15 spring sessions as Miller rehabbed the partially torn labrum he suffered in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, which was subsequently repaired in what at the time was described as minor surgery in late February.  That extra work for the two reserves continued into summer camp as Miller had been limited due to what was described as soreness in his shoulder.

While the pair have received additional reps because of Miller’s issues, it won’t help the game-day inexperience.  Barrett has never thrown a pass at the collegiate level, while Jones has thrown just two.

Despite the lack of on-field experience at this level, Barrett will enter the huddle with a fairly lofty recruiting pedigree and an assertive leadership style.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Easily the biggest knock on Barrett is his arm strength, or lack thereof.  His offensive coordinator/position coach, however, says the former Texas high schooler more than makes up for lack of a cannon on his shoulder in other facets of the game.

“Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader,” Tom Herman said earlier this month of a player who’s turned out to be his new starting quarterback. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.

“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”

Cardale Jones
Cardale Jones

Jones, a three-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class who delayed his enrollment at OSU for prep school, was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country that year.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then played sparingly in 2013; in 39 plays from scrimmage last season, Jones threw the ball twice (completing one for three yards) and ran 17 times (for 128 yards and a touchdown).

Meyer didn’t address just who will start the opener against Navy, although it was noted in the release that “[i]t was previously announced by Meyer on Saturday that Barrett, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Wichita Falls, Texas, had moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback spot.”  Recently, Barrett has taken the lion’s share of reps with the first-team offense as he separated himself from Jones.

Taking all of that into account, there’s no reason to tap dance around it — losing Miller for the year is a significant blow to the Buckeyes and will certainly have an impact on the Big Ten Race.  It also may very well significantly impact the first year of the College Football Playoff as the Buckeyes, despite the Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State, were the overwhelming favorites to claim the conference and emerge as the league’s playoff representative.  Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football; some would even argue that he’s the most irreplaceable and indispensable, given the unproven running backs in OSU’s stable and the coaching staff having to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen.

Even as it may seem like it in the here and now, the season’s not completely lost for the Buckeyes.  As, just to name a few, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel,  Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have shown over the past couple of years, redshirt freshmen are perfectly capable of successfully leading their teams in their first seasons as starters.  One of those four (Winston) won a BCS title, while another (Golson) helped lead his team to the BCS title game.  Winston won the Heisman en route to the championship, while Manziel took home his while helping the Aggies win 11 games their first season in the SEC.  Mariota was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 as the Ducks won 11 games, including the Fiesta Bowl.

More than likely, the Ducks and Aggies would’ve qualified for the playoffs were that system around in 2012, the former in particular.

Then there’s this: USC’s Matt Leinart (2004), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2007) Alabama’s Greg McElroy (2009), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2011) and Winston (2013) all won BCS titles in their first year as starters over the last decade.

Who knows, Barrett could make it three seasons in a row for the second-year freshman/first-year starter phenomenon that’s done nothing but grow over the past handful of years.  And, for now, that’s about all Buckeye Nation can hang their title hopes on.

Well, that and a schedule that features just one team at the moment ranked in the Top 25 — No. 8 Michigan State in East Lansing.  That’s easily OSU’s toughest road game of the year, with other games away from The Horseshoe consisting of against Navy (9-4 in 2013) (in Baltimore), Maryland (7-6), Penn State (7-5) and Minnesota (8-5).  Their home slate features matchups against Virginia Tech (8-5), Kent State (4-8), Cincinnati (9-4), Rutgers (6-7), Illinois (4-8), Indiana (5-7) and Michigan (7-6).

According to FBSchedules.com, Ohio State’s 2014 schedule is tied for fifth-toughest, with Oregon, among the teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.  The .569 winning percentage of its opponents top that of defending BCS champion Florida State (.550), Oklahoma (.477) and Alabama (.473).

In other words, it’s not the cakewalk some have perceived to be.  It’s not exactly a football death march either, which means that, depending on how fast Barrett — or Jones — get acclimated, all the gloom and doom currently hanging over the football program could give way to a postseason full of possibilities.  Or it’ll be 2011 all over again in terms of the won/loss ledger.  One of the two.

 

Jimbo Fisher vows to change culture at Texas A&M

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.