Miller Deserved A Heisman Invitation

Drivers who back into parking spaces. Double-stuffed Oreos. The fiscal cliff. Coaches in the Big Ten who didn’t think enough of Braxton Miller to make him their first-team all-conference selection.

There are so many things in this world that I just don’t get, and Miller finishing second to Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez on the coaches’ All-Big Ten was one more of them. Of course, the coaches look even more foolish now that Miller has won the Silver Football award, symbolic of the Big Ten’s most valuable player.

But there are some Ohio State fans that persist in the notion that Miller remains an average (at best) quarterback. Part of the downside of playing quarterback, of course, is that the hometown fans are never going to be satisfied. But I still cannot fathom how so many Buckeye Nation denizens believe Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is much more deserving of the Heisman Trophy than Miller.

First of all, Klein is not going to win the trophy. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be announced as the winner tomorrow night with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o a fairly distant second. Still, Klein earned an invitation to New York City and the official presentation ceremonies over Miller and USC receiver Marqise Lee.

Lee was no doubt eliminated for two reasons: He played for an underachieving team that lost five times this season, and he is only a sophomore. That means he can take his nation-best 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 TDs and get ready to pad those stats against Georgia Tech (No. 82 nationally in pass efficiency defense) in the Sun Bowl.

There were likely two reasons why Miller was eliminated as well. The first is that he is a sophomore, and the second was that he played for a team ineligible for postseason play. As a result, Miller got only cursory recognition during the season, and as the race for the national championship heated up, he was hardly mentioned at all.

It didn’t help Miller’s candidacy that his stats fell off during the final two games of the season. During the 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin, Miller was clearly frustrated as the Badgers keyed on him to the point that 23 carries netted only 48 rushing yards. His 10-for-18 performance for 97 yards and no touchdowns in the passing department was hardly Heisman-worthy, either.

The following week against Michigan, Miller was much better in the passing game, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown. But he struggled again on the ground, picking up only 57 yards on 20 carries.

Of course, those are the raw numbers. Dig a little deeper and you will find that Miller’s most effective month of the season was November when he failed to throw a single interception and rallied his team to a pair of overtime victories. Miller was also money with the game on the line. During the fourth quarter, he averaged 11.7 yards per attempt, threw for five touchdowns against only one interception, and had a passer rating above 205.

Then there is the totality of Miller’s body of work for 2012. Does anyone truly believe Ohio State would have completed a perfect 12-0 season without Miller at the controls? Even if all you look at are raw numbers, he should not be penalized because opposing defenses began to sell out just to stop him. The simple fact is that others on the team – i.e. Carlos Hyde, Philly Brown – began to step up their games because of him.

Does Miller remain largely an unfinished product as a college quarterback? There is virtually no disputing that. But 2012 marked the first season he has received any kind of high-level coaching. If he can make the same kind of progress over the next 12 months that he made over the past 12, there will be no way to prevent him from being a Heisman favorite in 2013.

That said, Miller’s 2012 numbers could be difficult to replicate. He broke Ohio State’s 17-year-old single-season record for total offense with 3,310 yards. He became the first OSU quarterback in program history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,271. Along the way, he totaled six games of 100 yards or more to give him a school-record-for-quarterbacks nine in his career. For some perspective on that last stat, All-American Bob Ferguson and Heisman Trophy winner Howard “Hopalong” Cassady had only nine 100-yard games during their Ohio State careers.

Miller also threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns, completing 148 of 254 attempts (58.3 percent). Those are solid-if-unspectacular numbers – although very similar to those put up by Klein. The K-State senior completed 180 of 272 attempts (66.2) percent for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also pitched seven interceptions to six for Miller. That computes to one pick for every 38.9 attempts for Klein, and one every 42.3 attempts for Miller.

Add in the fact that Klein (3,380) and Miller (3,310) were virtually tied in total offense, and their teams combined for a 23-1 record, and I fail to see how Klein was so much better that he deserved an invitation to New York while Miller did not.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Dec. 8, 1914, representatives from Oklahoma and Rice attended a meeting in Houston and joined as charter members of what became the Southwest Athletic Conference.

** On Dec. 8, 1959, the first NAIA championship contest was staged between St. Joseph (Ind.) and Montana State. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, and both schools were awarded NAIA championship trophies

** On Dec. 9, 1876, Yale finished an undefeated season with a 2-0 victory over Columbia in a game held in Hoboken, N.J. The Bulldogs finished their season with a perfect 3-0 record, their third undefeated season in the first five years of football at the university.

** On Dec. 9, 1914, College Football Hall of Fame icon Glenn “Pop” Warner coached his final game at Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School. The Indians traveled to Birmingham and came home with a 20-3 victory over Alabama. Warner, who also coached at Georgia, Cornell, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Temple, compiled a record of 312-104-32 during a 44-year coaching career.

** On Dec. 9, 1935, University of Chicago halfback John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger won the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy awarded to the outstanding player east of the Mississippi River. Berwanger was a runaway winner over Army halfback Charles “Monk” Meyer, Notre Dame halfback William Shakespeare and Princeton halfback W. Pepper Constable. One year after Berwanger won the award, it was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy in honor of legendary college coach John Heisman, who died in October 1936.

** On Dec. 9, 1961, Baylor scored a 24-9 upset victory over No. 10 Utah State in the long-forgotten Gotham Bowl. The game was played in New York City at the old Polo Grounds during a driving snowstorm and featured eight turnovers by the Aggies. Baylor was led by halfback Ronnie Bull, who rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Don Trull, who threw for one score and ran for another. Utah State was led by future College and Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Merlin Olsen. The Gotham Bowl was only played twice. Following the 1962 game in Yankee Stadium, a 36-34 win by Nebraska over Miami (Fla.) played in 14-degree weather, the contest faded into the history books.

** On Dec. 11, 1971, first and only East-West Black All-Star Game was held in Houston. The contest, which featured all-star teams comprised only of African-American players, featured a 19-10 victory for the East over the West before only 5,156 fans.

** On Dec. 11, 1977, College Football Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson led his Grambling State team to a 35-32 victory over Temple in the Tokyo Bowl. The Tigers’ victory marked one of the first wins by a historically black college over a Division I-A opponent.

** On Dec. 12, 1925, Hawaii topped Colorado State, 41-0, in Manoa, Hawaii, to push the Warriors’ winning streak to 18 games. It also snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Rams. Hawaii was coached at the time by Otto “Proc” Klum, the winningest coach in school history, who earned a reputation for running up the score on opponents. Twice during the 1926 season, the Warriors scored 101-0 victories.

** On Dec. 12, 1981, Eastern Michigan celebrated its first (and still only) postseason appearance with a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the California Bowl.

** On Dec. 14, 1995, overtime was used for the first time ever in a Division I-A game. Toledo took a 40-37 win in OT over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** Wisconsin is only the second unranked team to make a BCS bowl (Connecticut was the first in 2010) and the Badgers are the first five-loss team to enter a BCS game. It would seem prudent for the Bowl Championship Series to have some sort of mechanism in place to prevent teams with more than two losses from playing in the marquee bowls, but since the BCS is going away after next season anyway …

** And then there is the curious case of Louisiana Tech, a 9-3 team featuring the nation’s No. 1 ranked scoring offense. The Bulldogs aren’t going to any bowl because athletic director Bruce Van De Velde turned down an invitation from the Independence Bowl for a better offer that never came. Tech long snapper Josh Cuthbert promptly qualified himself for Tweet of the year with this gem: “Way to go athletic director #yousuck.”

** It’s a whirlwind kind of season for Rod Carey. The former offensive lineman at Indiana began the year as a junior member of Dave Doeren’s coaching staff at Northern Illinois. After the Huskies’ season-opening loss to Iowa, Carey was promoted to offensive coordinator when predecessor Mike Dunbar was diagnosed with cancer. Then the day after NIU defeated Kent State in the MAC Championship Game, Carey was promoted to head coach after Doeren left to take the job at North Carolina State. That means Carey’s first assignment as head coach will be in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

** Baylor finished the regular season with six consecutive victories to finish at 7-5 and grab a spot in the Holiday Bowl against UCLA. The Bears have now strung together three straight seasons of seven wins or more, and that’s the first time that has happened in Waco since 1949-51.

** USA Today college football writer Paul Myerberg had an interesting piece in the Dec. 4 issue regarding success tied to pass efficiency. The top 10 college teams in pass efficiency combined for a 91-31 record this season while the bottom 10 were 29-91. Of course, as with any statistical comparison, there are outliers. For example, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin finished atop the Big Ten in pass efficiency but ranked only a respective 44th, 52nd and 56th nationally. In terms of pass efficiency rating, the highest ranked team with a losing record was Marshall (5-7) at No. 27. The lowest ranked team with a winning record was Bowling Green (8-4) at No. 101.

** Pittsburgh began its season with a 31-17 loss to FCS member Youngstown State and sat at 2-4 in mid-October. But first-year head coach Paul Chryst righted the ship, the Panthers won four of their last six games, and got themselves bowl-eligible. That’s the good news. The bad news? Pitt will be playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., for the third year in a row. The Panthers took a 27-10 win over Kentucky two years ago and dropped a 28-6 decision to SMU last year.

** Speaking of the Panthers, they will be making their third straight visit to Birmingham under a third different head coach. Two years ago, head coach Dave Wannstedt was forced out and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett coached the team to its win over Kentucky. Last year, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was interim head coach during the bowl game after Todd Graham left to take over at Arizona State.

** Ten schools have filled coaching vacancies so far with 11 more still searching. The newly hired nine are Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Steve Addazio at Boston College, Sonny Dykes at Cal, Paul Petrino at Idaho, Mark Stoops at Kentucky, Doeren at N.C. State, Carey at Northern Illinois, Darrell Hazell at Purdue and Butch Jones at Tennessee. Still in the market for new head coaches: Arkansas State, Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida International, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Temple, UTEP, South Florida, Wisconsin and Western Michigan.

** Thoughts on the Bielema-to-Arkansas story have run the gamut from shock to derision. But for all of those who believe the SEC has stolen one of the Big Ten’s best coaches, chew on these numbers. Bielema leaves Wisconsin with a 39-19 record in the conference, a .672 winning percentage. Take a little closer scrutiny of that record and you will find a 25-2 mark vs. Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern, and a 14-17 ledger vs. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa and Nebraska. Bielema was 2-0 in conference title games, but only 2-4 in bowl games, including 0-2 in two Rose Bowl appearances.

** One final thought on the Wisconsin coaching situation. No one should have been surprised when athletic director Barry Alvarez decided to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. Likewise, no one should be surprised if Alvarez decides after the Rose Bowl that he himself is the best candidate to be Bielema’s successor.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We finished the regular season in a blaze of glory, going 8-2 straight up and 6-3-1 against the spread. That pushed the season totals to 105-25 SU picks and 68-58-4 ATS.

There is only one game tomorrow and it’s an annual classic.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Army vs. Navy: The pomp and circumstance of the Cadets and Midshipmen marching into the stadium far exceeds the entertainment value of the game itself. Nevertheless, it is a national showcase for a pretty good Navy team and a fairly awful Army squad. Both teams run the ball almost exclusively – Army has completed only 47 passes all season – which leads to the fact that the Cadets are the No. 1 running team in the nation and the Middies are No. 6. Unfortunately for Army, it also ranks 118th of 120 FBS teams in rush defense. That means RBs Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland as well as freshman QB Keenan Reynolds will get plenty of carries for Navy, and probably plenty of touchdowns … Navy 31, Army 24. (3 p.m. ET, CBS)

That will do it for the 2012 season. Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as well as a safe and prosperous new year.

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