Big Ten: Colin Kaepernick

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's all-time leader in wins.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.


A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins in school history (36). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner compiled his goals card for spring practice, he wrote down two words: no limitations.

After a winter to prepare as the Wolverines' starter, Gardner wanted offensive coordinator Al Borges to operate without restrictions. Whatever Borges intended to throw his way, Gardner would be ready.

"Coach Borges can call anything he wants, from any formation, set or anything," Gardner told ESPN.com. "I talked to him about it, and he said he's very comfortable with me, calling anything at any time."

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said he wants to limit the rushing attempts of QB Devin Gardner in 2013.
Gardner always has had a good grasp on Michigan's playbook, and even though he played wide receiver for the first eight games last season, he continued to think like a quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior always knew he'd return to the signal-caller spot this spring, but an elbow injury to starter Denard Robinson forced Gardner into action.

He exceeded most expectations in Michigan's final five games, accounting for multiple touchdowns in all five contests and at least three scores in four. But not surprisingly, there were some limitations to his game, like with audibles at the line.

"I definitely understood when I needed to get out of a play, but I didn't ever really change plays to a better play last year," he said.

Gardner now has the luxury of advantage audibles, as Borges calls them, which are based more on wants than needs.

"If I see they're in a defense where the play we have called, it'll be fine, but there's a much better play that will give us a better play, he's let me do that," Gardner said.

No limitations?

"Any play in the playbook," he said.

It took some time this spring for Gardner to get comfortable with his new freedom/responsibility, but he said every check he has made at the line has turned into a "plus play" for the offense. Borges is willing to loosen the reins for his top quarterback as long as there's "good rationale" for making changes.

But don't expect Gardner to operate like Peyton Manning does this season.

"We don't want him calling the whole game," Borges said, "but there are instances where there are things he can take advantage of. There are situations where I don't call the right play, and he's got to get us out of that."

Gardner devoted three weeks of the offseason exclusively to studying defensive fronts. The junior felt he had a good grasp on identifying pass coverages, but seeing where pressure would come from required more work.

It has helped him with his audibles during scrimmages this spring.

"Devin is really smart with numbers," Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "He understands the concepts of football, the concepts of our schemes. The zone power, the downhill run stuff, the zone-power combos, the isos, Cover 1, Cover 2, and how to change the play to put us in the best situation to be successful."

According to Gardner, the offense Michigan ran at the end of the 2012 season has remained practically the same. The spread isn't totally dead -- "We're almost no spread offense now, with a few spread principles," Borges said -- but the Wolverines will primarily operate from a pro-set. Gardner said he's taking 70 percent of snaps from under center, and Borges doesn't want Gardner carrying the ball more than 10 times a game.

It doesn't mean Michigan won't use Gardner's athleticism. Borges has studied what NFL teams like the Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson), the San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick) and the Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III) are doing with dual-threat quarterbacks like Gardner.

"Any pieces that look like they might fit with what we do," Borges said. "College football isn't pro football. It's different, but you can implement a lot of the same things they do because they do so many things well."

Could Gardner be one of the next dual threats to reach the NFL? Like his goals card, Gardner's potential seems to have no limitations.

"The kid has really worked hard," Borges said. "The game's important to him, and now he gets an opportunity he's been waiting for."

Big Ten lunch links

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
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You're never off the court!

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Michigan and Notre Dame have shown in recent years that no college football program is immune from periods of turbulence, frustration and discontent.

Both programs have endured coaching change, major schematic adjustments, 3-9 seasons, quarterback shuffling and disillusionment from their respective fan bases. Arguably no two FBS head coaches entered their season openers last Saturday with more pressure than Michigan's Rich Rodriguez and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, both of whom are known for their offensive minds.

Granted, Nevada and Western Michigan aren't supposed to beat Notre Dame and Michigan, but after recent losses to Navy, Syracuse, Appalachian State and Toledo, neither the Irish nor the Wolverines takes much for granted any more.

If Michigan had stumbled against the Broncos, Rodriguez might have had his own billboard in Ann Arbor, like Weis in South Bend.

Both squads delivered impressive wins. Both showcased improved quarterback play from Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Michigan's Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Both shut down heralded signal-callers in Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Western Michigan's Tim Hiller.

Notre Dame and Michigan have traveled remarkably similar paths to Saturday's showdown at Michigan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). For the first time since 2006, the game serves as a platform for one of the sport's winningest programs to make a national statement.

"I see it as an opportunity for both teams," Michigan sophomore defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "Notre Dame has had their own trials and tribulations over there, and obviously, we've had some things happen recently and last year. We've both had doubts arisen about us.

"This game is national. Everybody in the country follows the Michigan-Notre Dame game. It's a game about respect and getting the pride back in both programs, so it's going to be interesting."

Here's a quick look at the similarities for the two programs in recent years:
Michigan-Notre Dame: By the Numbers
Michigan '08 Notre Dame '07
Record 3-9 3-9
Total offense rank 109th 119th
Scoring offense rank 84th 116th
Result vs. opp. 35-17 loss 38-0 loss
Bad loss Toledo Navy
Number of QBs 3 3

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