July 29, 2014

Evaluating Braxton Miller’s Heisman odds

Braxton Miller, Ray Polk

This college football season will be a treat.  Fans will get to watch the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, perhaps the most dominant and physically impressive defensive player of the last decade, a quarterback many assume will go first in the 2014 NFL Draft, and a two-time defending BCS National Champion that brings back both their starting quarterback and a running back who rushed for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago. Log on to online sports book Bovada, though, and you won’t find any of them with the most favorable odds to lift up the bronze trophy in New York on December 14.

Instead of Jadaveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, A.J. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, or the embattled Johnny Manziel (I’m pretty sure at this point it’s a legal obligation to refer to him this way), it’s Ohio State third-year quarterback Braxton Miller leading the way with 11/2 odds to take home college football’s highest individual honor. While he’s not a prohibitive favorite—Clowney is at 13/2 and Johnny Football is still listed at 7/1 in spite of his recent suspension—there are a number of reasons that he should have an even wider margin atop the board.

Miller’s main competitors are all incredibly talented—no one is disputing this fact. But while they are special football players, each is inherently flawed as a Heisman candidate.

For all of Clowney’s frightening speed, strength, and athleticism, he still plays defense—the ultimate kiss of death when the Heisman votes are cast1. Desmond Howard won as a cornerback, but he was also an explosive punt returner. Clowney is a freak, but he won’t be dropping back deep to catch punts. His only real shot to become a true Heisman challenger would be to replicate his 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks from 2012 while also making an impact on the other end of special teams plays by putting up something absurd like five or more blocked kicks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’s surely a long shot considering that he didn’t get his hand to a single kick or punt last season.

Teddy Bridgewater is widely regarded as the likely first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. His downfall, however, is that he plays at Louisville in the new American Athletic Conference which contains the remnants of the old Big East and Conference USA. Pundits will rip the Buckeyes for their soft schedule even if they romp their way to a 12-0 regular season followed by a B1G Championship Game victory, but Louisville’s slate is even easier. Some voters might dock Miller for playing in what they perceive to be an inferior conference, but if they employ that thinking then they will be forced to penalize Bridgewater even more harshly. The toughest team the Cardinals face is Cincinnati and their conference schedule includes Temple, UConn, and Memphis, making it likely that Bridgewater would need to put up Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson numbers to be in the discussion. Bridgewater threw for over 3,700 yards on a 68.5 completion percentage with 27 touchdowns against eight touchdowns while displaying virtually no rushing threat. Considering his weak schedule, he would probably need at least 4,000 yards with 35 or more touchdowns.

[Related: Ohio State tickets on secondary market are most valuable in conference]

Alabama’s McCarron and Yeldon face two challenges to their candidacies. First off, the Crimson Tide runs a balanced pro-style offense that will lead to a roughly even split between run and pass, possibly causing the backfield mates to split votes. Second, Nick Saban’s teams are known not for eye-popping offensive numbers, instead winning games with ruthless offensive efficiency and a dominating defense. While this loaded Alabama team enters the season as the rightful favorites to bring home another BCS National Championship, it’s unlikely that either McCarron or Yeldon can turn enough heads with their raw statistics to earn serious consideration unless all of the other candidates falter.

And finally there is reigning Heisman winner Manziel. I personally love Johnny Football and everything he stands for: Unrestrained fun (I am a college student myself, after all) and rubbing the NCAA’s nose in its own hypocrisy and incompetence. However, his suspension for the first half of Texas A&M’s opener against Rice combined with the intense media scrutiny he has faced since establishing himself as college football’s most exciting player last season will surely be a detriment to his attempt to join Buckeye legend Archie Griffin as the second repeat Heisman Trophy winner in the award’s illustrious history. Many Heisman voters do not appreciate his unbridled lifestyle as Manziel’s college-aged peers do, and that will surely hurt him when it is time for those various writers and pundits to fill out their ballots. Is it fair that Manziel may fall victim to the NCAA’s Draconian rules and bylaws and the high horses upon which many scribes ride? Probably not, but that does not mean it won’t happen.

That brings the discussion back to Braxton Miller himself. Last season he put up a somewhat underwhelming passing line of 2039 yards on a 58.3 completion percentage with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added a gaudy 1271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground (5.6 yards per carry) and at times singlehandedly kept the Buckeyes’ perfect season alive. While he wasn’t really in the Heisman conversation in 2012, no one can argue with those numbers and a 12-0 season.

Now add to that another year of experience in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. Also factor in the addition of true freshman weapon Dontre Wilson and his blazing speed out of the ‘pivot’ position Meyer made famous with Percy Harvin at Florida. Swing passes to Wilson will quickly turn into lots of yards and hopefully plenty of touchdowns that will be credited to Miller’s statistics. Finally, Ohio State enters the season as a huge favorite to capture the B1G crown and a legitimate chance to make the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena on December 8. With those changes, it’s not hard to see why Bovada and many other sports books have made the Buckeyes’ signal caller their preseason favorite to emerge victorious from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

This is not to say that Miller will run away with the Heisman this season. Oregon’s two candidates, quarterback Marcus Mariota and tailback De’Anthony Thomas, will undoubtedly post the ridiculous statistics that we have come to expect from the high-tempo offense in Eugene. For my money, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (who was supposed to be donning the Scarlet and Grey before Terrelle Pryor decided to come back for his Senior season)looks like a good dark horse candidate at 15/1 odds. And, as the nation learned last season, it is folly to rule out an unknown who could burst onto the scene much as Manziel did last season.

However, for all the reasons discussed, this season looks like a perfect storm for the junior from Huber Heights. If Miller can build on the improvement he showed from his freshman to sophomore seasons and the Buckeyes meet the lofty expectations as a team, he could easily become the first Ohio State player to raise the bronze statue since Troy Smith in 2006.

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Mitch is a native Clevelander currently attending the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, he is still able to follow the Browns, Cavs, Tribe and Buckeyes from Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Joseph_29.

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Footnotes:

  1. Just ask Ndamukong Suh. []
  • Natedawg86

    Title game is Dec 8 this season? I always thought they had too much time between last game and bowl game

  • Natedawg86

    Or is that the day that bowls are announced? (obv not BCS Championship)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think you probably answered your own question.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If Miller can get in the end zone more he may have a chance but I don’t think he’s one of the top contenders at this point. I expect an unknown or two will elevate their names into contention besides the guys Mitch named.

  • Natedawg86

    I was just messing around with the first post, but then i thought about it and thought that he could have meant that on Dec 8, they will be headed to the BCS NC.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    No clue maybe a typo and was supposed to be January 8 because like you I agree there’s no way the championship is in december.

  • mgbode

    Miller has a chance but the Buckeyes pretty much have to go undefeated, which is crazy to think about doing it 2 years in a row.

    Dark-horse guys:
    Kevin Hogan, Stanford
    Jameis Winston, FSU
    Todd Gurley, Georgia
    Nick Hundley, UCLA

    Wish they were darkhorse guys. Really, they are darkhorse guys to get an invite and represent the small schools:
    Jordan Lynch, NoIll
    Dri Archer, Kent State

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nick Hundley the Padres catcher?

  • mgbode

    I told you he was a dark-horse for it. Yes, I meant Brett.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I knew I should have more closely been examining these information packed posts of yours for authenticity. In the future could you please make sure they are 100% valid? ;-)

  • Mitchell Joseph

    Hey everyone, Mitch here. Sorry this has taken me so long to get to (still settling in for the year at school), but December 8th was a typo. The BCS title game is January 8.

    Also, I don’t think I made this quite clear enough, but I don’t think Miller will win the Heisman. I set out simply to present the case of why he opened as the favorite.

    I like the Kevin Hogan and Brett Hundley picks as darkhorses. If either Stanford or UCLA can knock Oregon off in the Pac 12, I think one of those players will be the main reason and could earn an invite to New York.

    I didn’t know much about Jameis Winston, but he obviously put on a show last night, and could be the (somewhat) unknown guy that comes out of nowhere, much as Manziel did last year.

    I can’t see Gurley making too much noise just because he’ll be facing stout SEC defenses every week. He’s going to take plenty of punishment in that conference and could get dinged up or see his production tail off.

    Tajh Boyd obviously made a statement by posting the most impressive win of Week 1. Bridgewater did exactly what he was expected to do against Ohio U. One last name to keep an eye on is Lache Seastrunk, Baylor’s running back. Big 12 defense is often lacking, so he might have a chance to put up some eye-popping numbers.

    Thanks for all the feedback and my apologies again for being so slow to join the conversation.

  • mgbode

    good update. I did think about Seastrunk, but didn’t include him for the same reason that Bailey/Austin didn’t seem to get much traction last year. The non-QB skill guys from the high-offense spread teams never seem to get much respect for the Heisman race.