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Braxton Miller injury drags down all of Big Ten’s playoff hopes

By Teddy Greenstein Chicago Tribune (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:01 PM

Braxton Miller is done for the season, and that’s a terrible blow to Michigan State and Wisconsin and Iowa and Michigan. Yes, even Michigan.

We know losing Miller torpedoes Ohio State’s hopes of making college football’s first playoff. But how cruel that a freak, noncontact shoulder injury weakens the entire conference?

It’s like when Appalachian State beat Michigan in 2007, and some shortsighted Ohio State and Michigan State fans raised the schadenfreude flag.

Do you know what’s worse than losing to Appalachian State? Losing to the team that lost to Appalachian State.

In other words, when a Big Ten power sinks, it drags all other teams down to where only a submarine-traveling James Cameron can find them.

In this case, Ohio State opened at No. 5 in the AP preseason poll. The Buckeyes were favored to win the Big Ten. Urban Meyer is 16-0 in regular-season Big Ten games. Ohio State is perceived as the class of the conference, and Miller was ranked first in the class.

Those perceptions matter to the 13 human beings who compose the playoff selection committee. (Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez have the strongest Big Ten ties.)

Now, if Michigan State takes down the Buckeyes on Nov. 8, will it look impressive? If the Spartans’ Shilique Calhoun grinds Miller replacement J.T. Barrett into sausage, will anyone be surprised?

Nope. Even worse, that game will be played in East Lansing. So Michigan State figures to be a sizable favorite.

Here’s what it all means: Michigan State must play Oregon super-tight in Week 2 for the Big Ten to get a team in the four-team playoff. And if that’s what you’re banking on … mercy.

Sorry to be fatalistic about it, but no team from the West Division will get there. (Fine, I’ll put Wisconsin and Iowa each at 25-to-1.)

And if you think the Buckeyes still have hope, listen to Kirk Herbstreit. The ESPN analyst and former Buckeyes quarterback had picked his alma mater to win the national championship, apparently unconcerned about a green offensive line. Without Miller, Herbstreit said Ohio State is “probably a 10-2, 9-3 type of team.”

“This is as devastating an injury as any team in the country could have had to take,” Herbstreit said. “(Florida State’s) Jameis Winston, (UCLA’s) Brett Hundley, (Oregon’s) Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller.”

The dual-threat Barrett is the wild card. Few have seen him perform. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman vaulted sophomore Cardale Jones without playing a down of college football.

“I have watched him in practice,” Herbstreit said, “and I can tell you — he’s not Braxton Miller. They will have to win with defense … and the playmakers at receiver and running back will have to take the pressure off the quarterback.”

The only good news is Miller said he’ll return to Columbus in 2015 as a graduate student. He’ll vie to become the first three-time winner of the Tribune Silver Football, awarded to the Big Ten’s best player.

The Big Ten needed a highly questionable pass-interference call to win its only national title, by Ohio State, in the 16-year BCS era. And 2014 is opening with a thud.

But, hey, the Buckeyes look good for 2015.


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