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.

 

Team that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1972 close to announcing bowl-affiliation agreement

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It’s always good to be prepared. In the case of UMass football though, they might be a little too prepared in one particular case.

According to MassLive.com, the Minutemen are close to announcing a bowl-affiliation agreement for the program — one of the few FBS independents who do not have a ready-made path to a postseason appearance as things currently stand.

“We’re down the path with some relationships with some bowls that we’re going to be announcing in the next 30-45 days that we feel good about,” AD Ryan Bamford said. “We’re going to have a relationship that’s going to cover us through 2025. That will cover us so if we’re bowl eligible we feel very good about being placed in a bowl if we get to 6-6.

“It will have a number of iterations, a number of variables to it. We feel good about the relationships we’ve been able to build and our ability, when we become a bowl-eligible team for the first time, to have a place to go. That our fans will be able to travel there and support us and that will be a seminal moment for our program.”

Banford later confirmed that ESPN is likely to play a role in the agreement, which likely hints at a conditional spot in one of the 13 or so bowl games they own through a subsidiary.

While such a deal would be nice to have, UMass actually following through and using it remains another matter. The 2019 team is among the worst in the country at 1-10 on the year and the program overall hasn’t made a bowl game since the defunct Boardwalk Bowl pitted the Minutemen against UC Davis in 1972.

In fact, UMass has only finished above .500 once in the past decade and that came before the school transitioned to the FBS level. So while the deal is nice to have, it’s more of one that the program will utilize in theory rather than practice until proven otherwise.

Ahead of first SEC meeting with Georgia, Jimbo Fisher hints at conference scrapping division format

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Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 but the Aggies are only now, in November of 2019, playing their first game against Georgia — an opponent they won’t see again in the regular season for another five years.

Such is life in a 14 team conference that refuses to move to nine conference games to increase the frequency of cross-division matchups between programs.

Such a lengthy rotation against teams that are not permanent rivals has led to plenty of suggestions on how the SEC could improve their scheduling and it appears that the leadership involved is at least opening the door to the possibility of change. As noted by FootballScoop, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher hinted that a new format could be on the horizon for the league.

“I know they’re looking at some formats going forward that keep the three main and rotate five and all those things,” Fisher said. “I think it is good for your players, eventually, to play everybody in the conference. I really do believe that…. When you have conferences as big as you have now, that’s kind of the way it goes.”

The philosophy behind the schedule is sure to be a talking point at spring meetings in Destin, Fla. next year and from the sounds of what Fisher is saying, it’s possible a “PODS” setup is in the running for schools where they would play three opponents every year and rotate among the others as part of the remaining five conference games.

Such a setup would eliminate the imbalance there sometimes is between the SEC West and SEC East and could go a long ways at preventing players (and fans) from going a decade-plus between visits to certain campuses.

Of course the easiest solution is just to go to nine conference games like the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 but nobody has been more resistant to such a move than the SEC in the recent past. We’ll see what ultimately ends up happening but hopefully for fans who want to make more regular trips to places like Athens and College Station, the cha-cha-changes come sooner rather than later.

FIU unveils new ‘Miami Lights’ helmet for local showdown against the ‘Canes

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Miami is taking a break from ACC play this weekend to host local rival FIU in a series that has probably been most notable for the two program’s on-field skirmish back in 2006.

The Panthers, however, may soon be known for something else far more positive by announcing a new look for Saturday’s game, unveiling a stunning city-themed ‘Miami Lights’ helmet that they’ll sport against the Hurricanes:

That is jaw-droppingly good FIU. Now we just need head coach Butch Davis to dress up against his old team with a white sport coat a la Sonny Crockett to really complete the look.

The ‘Canes are going with their standard issue look either for the contest as they announced they’ll be switching out the usual all-white setup and using gray facemasks against the Panthers. The move is a nod to the teams of the past that sported the look at the old Orange Bowl, the program’s former home in the city which is now the baseball venue known as Marlins Park, where Saturday’s game will be played.

Kudos to both sides for mixing it up with a bit of old and new for what should be a unique setup in Little Havana.

Report says Auburn has not discussed moving on from perpetual hot seat coach Gus Malzahn

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Owing to his position as Auburn head coach, Gus Malzahn is a perpetual member of the college football hot seat club.

Despite the fan base’s occasional frustrations with the way this season has transpired however, Tigers brass does not appear to be set on making an expensive move away from the embattled coaching staff.

Per AL.com, a source told the site that “that Auburn has not had any internal discussions about making a head coaching change.”

“We’ve had one of the toughest schedules in the country,” AD Allen Greene said Friday. “We’ve been competitive in every one of those games. Our focus right now is on Samford, on Alabama and the Iron Bowl, and recruiting. Our whole focus right now is finishing out the season on a strong note and then focusing on reloading for next year.”

Now it’s worth noting that Malzahn could very well wind up not being the coach at AU in 2020 if he chooses to leave, having been linked quite a bit the past few years with the now open gig in his home state at Arkansas. While he would owe a hefty seven-figure buyout to the school if he wanted to do so, that’s nothing compared to the cost that the Tigers would need to raise if they wanted a change.

That amount, roughly $27 million, makes Florida State’s expensive golden parachute for Willie Taggart look tame by comparison.

Malzahn is 60-30 overall at the school and 32-23 in SEC play over seven seasons, including an SEC title in 2013 and a national title with the program while serving as an offensive coordinator in 2011.