Who Will it Be?
Four Players Vying for Role of a Lifetime
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rarely at a program like Ohio State is the most important position on the field left up to chance.
Most teams plan three or four years in advance. They have a succession plan in place. They know not only who the next guy will be, but often times the guy after the next guy.
Ohio State had barely even begun the Terrelle Pryor era when they offered Braxton Miller during his sophomore year at Wayne High School. They are about to find out what happens when that plan goes awry; what happens when the timetable is involuntarily accelerated.
This off-season was supposed to be a coming of age tale for Terrelle Pryor. It was supposed to be about Pryor making a leap from his junior year to being a serious Heisman Trophy contender as a senior.
Instead, Pryor spent the off-season in a protective boot, and the Buckeyes will spend this spring trying to find his replacement for the first five games of the upcoming season.
Who Will It Be?
Before the start of spring practice, we polled 30 members of the Ohio State football media to see who they thought the starting quarterback would be in the season-opener against Akron.
That group included journalists from internet, print, radio and television outlets in Columbus, with over 43 percent of the vote going to freshman Braxton Miller. That might come as a surprise to many who assumed the consensus would have been in favor of senior Joe Bauserman.
He received only 23.3 percent of the vote, just behind sophomore Kenny Guiton, who grabbed 26.7 percent. Redshirt freshman Taylor Graham came in a distant fourth at just 6.7 percent of the vote.
Actual Voting Results (Out of 30)
5 Braxton Miller (6-3, 210, Fr.) — 13 votes (43.3 percent)
Working for Him: Miller is not your ordinary freshman quarterback. He is coming off four years as the starter at Wayne High School and he has already been on campus since January. The Warriors came up just short of winning the Division I state championship this past Dec., but Miller is light-years ahead of where Pryor was as a passer when he got to Ohio State back in 2008.
(5) and Terrelle Pryor at OSU spring football practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
For those who need more proof, watch the state title game against St. Edward. This is not a kid who played against junior varsity talent every week the way Pryor did at Jeannette. His mechanics will need some fine-tuning, but not the complete overhaul Pryor underwent early on.
Miller has drawn comparisons to former OSU quarterback Troy Smith because of his size and ability, but the one area he may be most like the Heisman Trophy winner is his ability to keep plays alive. Miller is constantly scanning the horizon while using his legs to create more time for his receivers to get open.
Ohio State is unlikely to open up the playbook early in the year, especially this year. They typically don’t show a whole lot early in the year to begin with, but it only seems logical that Jim Bollman and the offensive staff will lean heavily on OSU’s stable of talented running backs during that five-game stretch.
Working against Him: The main thing working against Miller is something he simply cannot control: time. Though Miller enrolled early, he is still learning the system while trying to compete with guys who already know it. The playbook may not be as complex as some others in the country, but Tressel and his staff expect perfection. Miller will have five months to get everything down and prove to the coaches he is a better choice to run the offense than any of the other candidates.
Although he is more advanced as a passer than Pryor was as a freshman, that doesn’t mean his release is perfect. He will need some tweaking to the way he delivers the ball and he will need to be more consistent getting it out. If this were simply a passing contest, Miller would have a hard time beating out someone like Taylor Graham.
Best Case Scenario: Miller picks up the offense much quicker than expected and makes a huge splash in the jersey scrimmage and/or spring game. He quickly develops chemistry with the young receivers, like Philly Brown, over the summer, and even gets a chance to spend some time learning from Troy Smith because of the NFL lockout. He shows up confident and ready for the start of fall practice, and swiftly works his way up the depth chart. He plays well in the first five games, but not well enough to cause a controversy when Pryor returns from his suspension.
Worst Case Scenario: Miller struggles to learn the offense and his mechanics prove to be more flawed than originally expected. After spending all of spring practice working with the third-team offense, Miller becomes discouraged and does not put in extra work over the summer. He shows up for fall camp with a bad attitude and things only get worse when the coaching staff asks him to take a redshirt. The Buckeyes start 3-2 with Bauserman under center, and Miller’s struggles cast serious doubt about his potential to be the starting quarterback in 2012.
13 Kenny Guiton (6-1, 190, rSo.) — 8 votes (26.7 percent)
(13) will get a look at the quarterback spot.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Working for Him: Guiton has been in the program long enough to learn the system, but not so long that we’ve stopped expecting to see anything out of him. If anything, fans are waiting to see more from Guiton since his performance in the spring game a year ago. He completed 10 of his 18 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Taurian Washington. It was a great throw to the front corner of the end zone, and Guiton really impressed with his ability to throw the ball. Maybe more telling is the fact his teammates took him ahead of Bauserman in the spring game draft.
Guiton has enough mobility that Ohio State wouldn’t really need to change much about their offense with him under center. He has a quick release and if he played well to start the year, he could make things very interesting at the quarterbacks spot for 2012.
Working against Him: For starters, Guiton wears unlucky No. 13. By now, Ohio State fans have burned or donated most of their old 13 jerseys from the Clarett era, but that’s not the only thing working against him. Had Guiton shown enough promise in high school to earn more consideration, he likely never would have been a Buckeye in the first place. The only reason he ended up at OSU was the fact he was still available after they whiffed on Tajh Boyd and Austin Boucher.
Although he drew initial interested from Kansas State and Purdue, Guiton was all set to attend Prairie View A&M before John Peterson got on a plane and flew down to Texas. That doesn’t mean Guiton isn’t a good football player, but it does mean he was a long-shot from the start to ever play at Ohio State. His mechanics weren’t great when he got here, but it was really his footwork that needed correction. He is throwing the ball a lot better now, but still lacks consistency in his throws. Too many wobbly ones, ala a young Pryor.
Best Case Scenario: Guiton proves himself to be a true diamond in the rough with a breakout spring. He not only holds off the two freshmen, but pushes Bauserman for the top spot. Once again, he goes out with a bang, leading a last-minute touchdown drive to win the spring game. His humble personality becomes infectious and his teammates quickly take to him over the summer, calling him “their guy” to start fall camp. He performs well in the first five games with Pryor, who calls him ‘little bro’ cheering him on as his biggest fan.
Worst Case Scenario: Guiton stumbles out of the gates and never recovers. He falls behind Miller and Graham during the spring and starts to have his first thoughts of leaving the program. The fall does nothing to help those thoughts, and he starts the year running the scout team offense. By the middle of the season, Guiton is back in Texas with plans of transferring to Prairie View.
14 Joe Bauserman (6-1, 233, Sr.) — 7 votes (23.3 percent)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Working for Him: As a fifth-year senior and the elder statesman of the group, Bauserman has certainly been around long enough to learn the system. In fact, he ought to know it better than Jim Tressel by now. He has been the No. 2 quarterback behind Pryor for the past two seasons and will likely have the first chance to win the job.
A former minor league pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bauserman has a strong arm and he is not as statuesque as some might expect at first glance. Tressel has proven he won’t stick with a guy just because he’s a senior, but we also know he is looking for leadership this off-season. If the battle is neck-and-neck all the way to the end, that definitely favors a senior like Bauserman.
Working against Him: Bauserman may have a strong arm, but his release point is all over the place. That may have helped him as a pitcher, but it won’t do him much good as a quarterback. The one thing this position requires above all else is consistency. One good throw means nothing if it’s followed by three bad ones. That has been Bauserman’s problem during his time at Ohio State. He has never been able to show any kind of consistency.
Because of his size, Bauserman also has a lot of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. He can get out of the pocket, but does not excel at throwing on the run. Teams will not have to game plan for his mobility, which means they will be coming after him in the pocket. Tressel’s teams have historically struggled with pocket passers, and it doesn’t help that All-Big Ten left tackle Mike Adams is also suspended for the first five games.
Maybe more than anything, however, is the fact Bauserman has done very little in his time at Ohio State to make anyone believe he is capable of effectively leading this football team.
Best Case Scenario: Realizing his one chance to make a name for himself, Bauserman embraces the opportunity of a lifetime. He holds on to the top spot throughout all of spring practice, culminating in a strong spring game performance in which he connects with speedster Philly Brown on two long touchdown passes. He continues to work on developing Brown as a deep threat over the summer and shows up for fall camp in the best shape of his life. Instead of trying to prove something, Bauserman embraces his role and becomes a strong decision-maker for the Buckeyes, helping them weather the storm until Pryor can return.
Worst Case Scenario: Bauserman continues to be just good enough for the coaches to justify keeping him at the top spot despite his inconsistency. He covers up bad throws and poor decision-making with a few great passes, and continues to say all the right things the coaches are looking for out of their quarterback. Because they are desperate for leadership, the coaches decide to stick with Bauserman, despite the fact Braxton Miller and the others have shown much more potential. The locker room begins to splinter as Bauserman struggles to beat Akron in the opener. The coaches stick with him at Miami and the Buckeyes get blown out by the Hurricanes as Bauserman throws four interceptions.
19 Taylor Graham (6-4, 225, rFr.) — 2 votes (6.7 percent)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Working for Him: He didn’t come to OSU with the same fanfare as Braxton Miller, but Graham was a highly-sought after prospect himself. As the son of former Buckeye quarterback Kent Graham, he has a high ceiling, and if he can win the job it would allow the coaching staff to redshirt Miller so that his clock doesn’t start until 2012.
Graham has all the tools to be not just a good player, but a great one at Ohio State. He has excellent size and a rocket arm. Not in the way Pryor and Bauserman do, which is to say they can throw the ball a long way. Graham has real velocity on his passes, which will allow him to put the ball in tight spaces. That is something the Buckeyes have lacked at the quarterback position since Troy Smith.
Working Against Him: Like Guiton, Graham was not OSU’s first choice in his class. They missed on Nick Montana and Andrew Hendrix before offering. A big part of that were the injuries which plagued him during his high school career. Graham continued to battle a knee problem last year, likely related to the torn PCL that ended his senior season.
Graham appears to be healthy now, but for how long? He is pure pocket passer with very limited mobility, which means protection will be at a premium. That definitely works against the fact OSU will be breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, including a left tackle to fill in for Adams.
Best Case Scenario: Finally healthy, Graham shows off his canon this spring and proves he can move the offense down the field in big chunks. The offensive line comes together quickly, with Marcus Hall or Andrew Norwell locking up the left tackle spot for the first five games. The running game becomes the focal point of the offense and Graham proves he can provide the deep passing attack to help open things up for Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry.
Worst Case Scenario: Just as Graham starts to make headway, he suffers another injury setback and misses the last 10 practices of the spring. He is still rehabbing when fall camp opens and by the time he gets back into the mix, it’s far too late for him to compete for the starting job.
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