LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- By the end of this week, Braxton Miller will be a college student. He'll play in the Under Armour All-American game on Wednesday, and he'll head to Columbus on Thursday to start his college career at Ohio State. "I'll make my family proud," the star quarterback from Wayne High in Huber Heights, Ohio, said Monday.
Miller's relatives won't be the only ones charting his early progress in Columbus, though. What would have been an easy, relatively quiet transition -- for a top-shelf quarterback recruit, at least -- has been set on its ear by the NCAA's ruling that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor must sit out the first five games of his senior season for selling memorabilia. Suddenly, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Miller is a candidate to be Ohio State's opening-day starter. Miller, a dual-threat quarterback who led his high school to Ohio's big-school state title game this season, admits the prospect of taking the field with the starting offense at the Horseshoe in September is exciting.
"Yeah, it is," Miller said. "It's a lot of pressure, too."
Indeed, because if Miller does beat out rising senior Joe Bauserman and rising sophomore Kenny Guiton for the job, Miller must lead a program that competes annually for the Big Ten title and spends most years in the national title hunt. Certainly, Miller knows he can't simply walk on campus and win the job. "People say that all the time. 'You're going to start the first five games,'" Miller said. "It's not that easy."
Complicating matters even more is the fact that quarterback is not like tailback or cornerback. The player who starts the season might, by game six, be better suited than the incumbent starter to lead the team. Also, there are still a few questions that need answering even before Miller takes his first spring practice snap. Chief among them: Is Pryor even coming back?
Pryor said last week that he plans to return for a truncated 2011 season. But that was before the Columbus Dispatchran a story that allowed for one of two conclusions: Either Pryor has terrible luck and only gets pulled over by the cops when he's driving a dealership loaner car, or he's driving loaners an awful lot more than the average NCAA student-athlete. (C'mon, who hasn't been allowed to test-drive a used luxury SUV across state lines?) Pryor was cleared after an investigation into the situation, but the stink from it now that it's public may prod all parties to rethink their decision to reunite for the 2011 season.
Miller, for his part, would like to see Pryor return. "I still would like to learn from him," Miller said.
If Miller learns too well, though, where will that leave Pryor? Whichever quarterback wins the job will start against Colorado, Miami and Michigan State in games three, four and five. Pryor's suspension will end just before the Buckeyes travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Oct. 8, and there is no open date between the Michigan State game and the Nebraska game. From a practical standpoint, inserting a quarterback who hasn't played might not be the smartest move if the Buckeyes' offense is humming under the new guy. So what then? Does Coach Jim Tressel ask Pryor to move to receiver? Pryor is too good of an athlete to keep off the field, but he has said all along he intends to play quarterback. (There's also the possibility that the offense will be stagnant under the new guy, in which case Pryor's return would be welcome.)
Miller, who also is athletic enough to play other positions, certainly understands Pryor's thinking. Though he didn't drag out his recruitment the way Pryor did, Miller passed on offers from Alabama, Florida and others because Ohio State made him its first choice at quarterback in the class of 2011. And while Miller is a dynamic runner, he would prefer to move the ball by throwing. "If somebody's blitzing, if they're right in my face, I can scramble and hit a receiver, or I can use my feet to make stuff happen," Miller said. "I always like to use my arm, though."
Thanks to Pryor's suspension, Miller may have to use that arm to move the Buckeyes down the field sooner than expected, but the soon-to-be-freshman seems ready for the pressure. Miller's future teammates understand his importance, too. Wednesday, Miller will face off against fellow Ohio State commit Ryan Shazier. Shazier, a linebacker from Plantation, Fla., said he may have to take it easy on the franchise in their only meeting as opponents.
"I'll tackle him softly," Shazier said with a laugh.