- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hitting one out of two was about all Ohio State could ask for with its star juniors.
Even better for the Buckeyes, they're apparently keeping the one who really matters to their title hopes in 2014.
Ryan Shazier is a fantastic defender, and given the woes on that side of the ball at the end of the season, Urban Meyer certainly can use as many of those as possible as he rebuilds and reloads that unit. Losing him to the NFL draft, as SI.com reported citing a source, is a significant blow. But the Ohio State coach has been stockpiling talent to turn loose defensively next season -- and replacing Braxton Miller was always going to be the taller order.
Now the Buckeyes won't have to do that for another year, and the benefits are obvious.
The record-setting spread offense will have its engine back with yet another year to absorb the system, become a better student of the game and again improve his mechanics. For all Miller's struggles at the end of the year throwing the football, whether he was banged up, slowed by bad weather or whatever else, he again proved in the Discover Orange Bowl how invaluable his singular skills are to the Buckeyes as he nearly dragged them to a win by himself with four total touchdowns.
Of course, the bid for a late comeback ultimately came up short when Miller misread a coverage and fired an easy interception directly to a Clemson defender, adding one more bit of evidence that he's not quite ready to be a professional passer. There was plenty of proof to go around during the final month of the regular season and another sloppy outing in the Big Ten title game. But even with Miller not quite reaching his potential, there's probably nobody in the country whom Meyer would trade for to run his offense.
Miller is the two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He has twice finished in the top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy. And while his arm might get criticized at times and NFL scouts night not have considered him ready to move on, Miller is plenty good enough at the level he's at now to take the Buckeyes back into national-title contention during his senior season.
Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett could wind up being productive quarterbacks down the road, and they might have been capable of leading an attack with veteran skill players such as Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman returning along with promising dynamic threats such as Dontre Wilson and redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall without missing a beat. But they almost certainly don't have Miller's multipurpose athleticism. They haven't been through nearly as many battles leading the offense, and the Buckeyes would certainly have their hands full trying to bring the young quarterbacks along behind an offensive line with four new starters.
Shazier would have been icing on the cake if he returned. But Miller is the main course, and the Buckeyes now have enough to feed on to get back in position to play for it all next season.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney