Big Ten: Jameis Winston

The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller began the season as a top Heisman Trophy candidate. He could end it the same way.

[+] EnlargeJason Mowry/Icon SMI
Jason Mowry/Icon SMIBraxton Miller probably can't win the Heisman Trophy, but he can earn an invitation to New York if he has a big game against Michigan State.
Miller likely can't win the Heisman on Saturday night against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship -- Florida State's Jameis Winston appears to be a lock -- but he could earn an invitation to New York for the trophy presentation. Who will join Winston in the Big Apple? Candidates such as Alabama's AJ McCarron, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch all have had their teams lose critical games in recent days.

Miller hasn't lost a game in two seasons, and he collected his second consecutive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award on Tuesday. Although a knee injury and some shaky play took him off of the Heisman radar in September, Miller has been brilliant for most of Big Ten play, leading the league with 295 yards of offense per game. He has four runs of 40 yards or longer and has completed 65.7 percent of his passes, ahead of Troy Smith's team record of 65.3 percent set during his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2006.

Although Ohio State always garners some of the spotlight, the Buckeyes haven't played an opponent this good, or been on a stage this big. If Miller performs well, he will get noticed.

"He'll be as prepared as he's ever been," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said this week. "He's been in some big stages, maybe not a championship game or a BCS bowl game yet. I just would anticipate he'll handle it great because usually the brighter the lights, the better he plays."

Michigan State's top-ranked defense will do what it can to subdue Miller and prevent him from having a Heisman moment at Lucas Oil Stadium. But the Spartans are wary of how dangerous Miller can be.

"I see a magician, a guy with a sixth sense, a guy that can take a bad play and make it a very good play, a guy that can create," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "You can know what Ohio State is doing, be right on top of it, do what you do to stop it that particular time, but he can create and make it a good play."

Someone needs to sit alongside Winston in Times Square. Miller's opportunity to do so comes Saturday night.

Big Ten Week 13: Did you know?

November, 22, 2013
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Because knowledge is power!

  • Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has praised Braxton Miller for being a complete quarterback this season, and the numbers certainly bear that out. He's attempting 84 percent of his passes inside the pocket -- an increase of 18 percentage points compared to last season -- and he's completing 71.3 percent of those passes, which is the best in the Big Ten.
  • Both Indiana and Ohio State are tied for second in the FBS with 18 touchdowns on drives lasting 1 minute or less. But the Hoosiers haven't been able to piece together sustained drives. The Buckeyes have eight touchdown drives lasting five minutes or longer. Indiana? Zero.
  • Michigan State's defense is arguably the best in the nation. And here are some numbers to chew on that might just back that up: The Spartans have allowed 13 runs of 10 yards or longer, which is seven fewer than any other FBS team. They lead the BCS with 122 total pressures (hurries, knockdowns, sacks). And they've allowed a BCS conference-low 29.1 yards-before-contact per game on designed runs.
  • [+] EnlargeConnor Cook
    AP Photo/Al GoldisConnor Cook is among the best in the country on third down.
    Just how good has MSU quarterback Connor Cook been in the clutch? On third downs, he's statistically the best quarterback in the conference. In Big Ten games, he has a QBR of 93.2 on third downs. He's converting 49 percent of those downs, completing 64.7 percent of his passes and averaging nine yards every pass attempt.
  • Northwestern's penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory has been pretty well documented this season, and no other team has really experienced as much heartbreak. The Wildcats have an FBS-high six losses when it has a lead in the fourth quarter in the last two seasons. And they've lost four games this year when tied or leading in the fourth quarter, which is tied for the most such losses in the country along with Temple, South Alabama and Utah.
  • In some respects, Wisconsin's rushing attack has been the most dominant in the nation. The Badgers average 4.3 yards per rush before first contact, the most in the BCS. It's averaging a BCS-best 9.4 yards per rush outside the tackles. And it leads the nation in rushes of 30 yards or longer (20) and 50 yards or longer (9).
  • Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson obviously has made some long strides since the beginning of the season, but he's really been on top during Minnesota's four-game winning streak. His 90.5 opponent-adjusted QBR ranks second-best in the FBS since Week 8, behind only Florida State's Jameis Winston (94.3). (He's a full point above Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.)
  • Nebraska has shown, again and again, its ability to win the close games. As a matter of fact, Nebraska has won seven games in a row that were decided by seven or fewer points. That's the second-longest streak in the country, behind only Arkansas State's eight wins. And the Cornhuskers also have won six Big Ten games in the past two seasons after trailing in the fourth quarter.
  • Iowa's defense doesn't get as much credit as the Spartans, but it's still a top-10 unit -- and it's especially good in the red zone. The Hawkeyes have allowed just nine red-zone touchdowns, which is tied for the lowest total in the nation. And they haven't allowed a first-quarter touchdown since Week 1.
  • Illinois sophomore tailback Josh Ferguson is quite the balanced player. He leads the Illini in rushing yards (554), but he's also a big part of the passing game. He has 498 receiving yards on 43 receptions, which puts him at second in the nation in terms of receiving yards by a running back. And he needs just six yards to break Kameno Bell's single-season school record for receiving yards by a running back.

Miller-Guiton combo worthy of Heisman

November, 5, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Heisman Trophy campaign was effectively over before it could even really start.

With the starter and a preseason awards favorite on the sideline, the backup made his own push for some hardware and was seemingly well on his way to making a case as the next-best quarterback in the Big Ten when given the stage.

Like Braxton Miller’s bid for the biggest prize in college football, Kenny Guiton’s run for individual glory was short-lived as well when the centerpiece of Ohio State’s spread offense returned from a nearly three-week absence due to a knee sprain. But imagine voting committees having the option to put them together, and there might not be a bronze statue safe from the one-two punch the Buckeyes have unleashed this season.

Certainly the contributions of both have been integral in the 21-game unbeaten streak Ohio State has put together, and the two friends have gone out of their way to praise each other and stress that team goals come first. And while Guiton’s recent cameos in the same formation as Miller and increased playing time in blowouts may have improved his chances of sneaking onto an All-Big Ten team in some capacity, if it were possible to put the production of the two together, a combined resume with nearly 2,800 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns would stack up with just about any quarterback in the country.

“We’ve not seen all the teams yet,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “But I’ve got the two that I like.

“I have a lot of respect for the other quarterbacks in the league, but if we’re drafting, I’ve got the two that I like.”

Meyer would almost certainly need two pretty high picks if he was going to keep his tandem together in a hypothetical Big Ten draft, with Guiton again receiving some chances to show how valuable he is to the Buckeyes and how useful he might have been to a large handful of teams around the league as a full-time option.

After more than a year of kicking around the idea, Ohio State has also finally found a way to put Guiton and Miller on the field at the same time, with the former taking the snap and the latter lining up as a receiver. That package has already produced a pair of touchdowns in the last two games, with Guiton scoring on a designed rush against Penn State and then throwing a jump pass for a score in the blowout last weekend of Purdue.

But with Miller sitting out the entire second half of the laugher against the Boilermakers, Guiton also had a chance to pad his stats outside of the red zone, rushing for 98 yards, throwing for 59 more and picking up right where he left off during his unforgettable September. Both the absence due to injury and the recent lopsided scores have impacted Miller’s personal numbers, leaving him on the outside of the Heisman conversation despite clearly playing the best football of his career.

But assuming Miller would have been able to match the statistics Guiton has put up when he was on the sideline, imagine an awards contender who has completed more than 71 percent of his passes for 2,065 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, rushed for 717 yards and 7 more scores and also guided a team to a perfect record and a No. 4 ranking.

Those stats would match up quite well with current Heisman front-runners Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even if they don’t really mean much and there’s no such thing as splitting an individual honor like the Heisman among two players at the same position. But they can at least offer another reminder of just how prolific the Buckeyes have been at quarterback, regardless of which one is actually on the field.

“I haven’t watched enough of the other [Big Ten] guys, so it would be too hard for me to say,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I like our No. 1 guy, and I’d put our No. 2 guy up against anybody.

“Now, whether he’s better than them or not, I’m sure there are other guys that may do certain things better than him, but when it comes to managing the game and being a leader and all that, you’d have to do a lot of convincing, a lot of lobbying for me to say there’s a better one out there in this conference.”

Put the two together, though, and that lobbying might have to go to the national level.

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