Editor's Note: Braxton Miller has decided to return in 2015 and forgo the NFL Draft.
For many Buckeyes fans, the question was pretty simple. Eleven wins, or twelve? Playoff, or no playoff? But after suffering a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder on practice Monday, Braxton Miller simultaneously ended his college career and ushered in a scary new season for OSU.
It's easy to overreact. It's very easy. ESPN today said that "now, virtually Urban Meyer's entire team, outside of its star-studded defensive line, is made up of question marks." In a sense, that's completely true - the Buckeyes have a new offensive line, new faces at running back, new coaches, questions in the receiving corps, a secondary that was a shambles, and two stars on defense to replace. There are questions. But there are plenty of answers, too. This Buckeyes team is not dead. The question is, what are they, exactly?
At quarterback, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett will probably take over. He's not far ahead of Cardale Jones, but Tom Herman said that Barrett has shown better accuracy and made better reads in the run game during fall camp. Herman's assessment: "Gets the ball out quickly. Very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate. Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader. I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him."
Making good reads in the run game - choosing whether to keep it or whether to hand it off - is probably the most important part of that offense. When Barrett keeps it, he's got speed and strength at 230 pounds, though not as much of either as Jones does. But he's effective. According to the coaches, he's been equally effective in the pass game, by throwing on time, getting the ball out quickly, and understanding the route trees. His game is conducive to preventing turnovers, something that probably played a big role in the decision to go with Barrett.
All the same, he is not without flaws. He's not as athletic as Jones or Miller. He's probably only 6'0", and that may cause some problems. His arm isn't as impressive, and he's not shifty like Denard or even Braxton was. He can't stretch a defense vertically as much, and that's going to cause some problems. And of course, no matter how quickly Barrett absorbs the playbook, there is just no replacing a three-year starter entering his senior year. Ohio State is going to look less explosive, not just because they've lost Miller's athleticism, but because they've lost a big part of their playbook. There was a whole lot that Meyer and Herman could do with Miller that now they can't.
While nobody knows exactly how quickly Barrett will adjust to leading the team, one has to expect that this creates a bigger role for everyone else moving forward. The defense, potentially, has a chance to step forward and try to craft a new identity for the team. The front seven, deeper and probably better than a year ago, and the secondary, built on a more aggressive press coverage, might manage to resurrect the mythos of the old Silver Bullets. The running game, full of bruising backs, will probably be effective. The Buckeyes might not be a Ferrari anymore, but it would be to everyone else's dismay if they just turn into an angry bull instead. If they do indeed have to play a more traditional Big Ten style, they can probably out-B1G the Big Ten at it, between their tight ends and that stable of runners. With or without Miller, they are still the most athletic team in the Big Ten.
Now, with all of that said - with all of those endorsements out of the way about the Buckeyes' adversity, and skills, and strength, and talents - something has finally changed for a team that seemed so impervious for so many years to the ebbs and flows of football. Something, finally, might have changed, and it's impossible not to hope that this signals something better for a Michigan team that's been terrorized by those Buckeyes for a long time. And if so... then good riddance.