Ohio State coach Urban Meyer refused for weeks to even discuss quarterback Braxton Miller’s Heisman Trophy chances.
Now Meyer, who coached a Heisman winner at Florida named Tim Tebow, is joining a growing number of those who think the Buckeyes sophomore might just be a viable contender.
“Do I believe he’s a Heisman candidate? I do,” Meyer said this week. “I didn’t say that before. But I do believe Braxton is a Heisman candidate. He has to play much better. However, just from sheer production for a team that’s 9-0, it puts him in that category.”
It might not seem like a very bold statement, a coach simply citing his player’s chances. After all, every college player in America is technically a candidate.
But Meyer’s words also have given others at Ohio State tacit approval to go ahead with a campaign to put Miller in the spotlight more.
“By him agreeing that Braxton Miller is a Heisman Trophy candidate, that’s important,” Ohio State sports information director for football Jerry Emig said. “From this point forward, we’re going to let (Braxton’s) play on the field do most of his talking. Don’t get me wrong, hype is good. But I also do think that Ohio State’s tradition and history dictates that hype for our players for these kinds of honors is earned and not created.”
Based on what he’s done on the field, Miller deserves to be in the Heisman conversation.
Last week in a 35-23 win at Penn State, Miller became the third Big Ten quarterback to top 1,000 yards rushing in a season. He is 11th in the country and first in the conference at 121 yards a game. His passing numbers are nothing special. He has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,527 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions.
A shifty runner, Miller is at his breathtaking best in the open field. He has runs this season of 72, 67, 65, 55, 37 yards, three of 33 yards, and another for 31 yards.
Individual stats are one thing, but Miller’s candidacy has gotten another boost because he has been the linchpin of a team with a 9-0 record and is ranked No. 6 in the nation.
So don’t be surprised if Ohio State flexes its PR muscles to try to help Miller become the school’s eighth Heisman winner.
The university has never been shy about promoting players for awards. That includes curmudgeonly coach Woody Hayes, a larger-than-life figure who was fine with the hype machine helping out Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner (1974-75).
“Woody was never concerned about promoting a player, although everyone would probably think he was diametrically opposed to it,” said Marv Homan, who worked in Ohio State’s athletic communications department from 1949-87. “Woody knew Archie’s popularity with the team, and he was not concerned with singling him out for attention. He knew it would be the same Archie Griffin showing up every day at practice and every Saturday for games.”
Back then, Ohio State would include a special set of statistics highlighting Griffin’s gaudy accomplishments. Opposing coaches raving about Griffin’s balance and cutting ability would also be a part of the package.
The numbers — 5,589 career yards rushing, seasons of 1,577 and 1,695 yards as a junior and senior when the Buckeyes went 21-3 — spoke volumes.
Now Miller is approaching the end of a long season. Ohio State is banned from the postseason so he won’t have a bowl game to further prove himself. But Heisman voting is completed in early December, so that is a moot point.
Meyer coached Tebow at Florida when he won the Heisman in 2008.
Miller is only a sophomore, but so was Tebow, who was the first sophomore to win the bronze statuette.
“I have a little experience at that award,” Meyer said. “Braxton has to play much better. However, I believe he is a candidate.”
If the first step is just being identified as a contender, then Miller’s campaign is already well under way. Ohio State doesn’t plan on putting his face on coffee mugs, T-shirts or mouse pads and mailing them out to Heisman voters.
“I’m not certain that we need to have any kind of gimmick,” Emig said. “The whole goal of hype is name recognition. If you plug in the terms `Braxton Miller’ and `Heisman’ in a search engine, right now you’re going to generate 415,000 hits. I just did that a short while ago.”
So it’s still basically up to Miller and how the rest of the season goes. The Buckeyes play lowly Illinois at home on Saturday, then have a bye week before playing at Wisconsin and closing the season against rival Michigan. If Miller continues to play well, and Ohio State continues to win, things will take care of themselves.
Meanwhile, the guy who stands to be Miller’s campaign manager is standing by, watching closely.
“If there’s something that needs to be done just to cement that `this is the guy,'” Emig said, “We’ll be in a position to do something to secure some top-of-mind recognition as we head into that first week in December.”