Braxton Miller's injury complicates Ohio State's mission

Acknowledging that college football's new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 7, Ohio State:

A season-ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller in August was always the nightmare scenario for Ohio State and any college football analyst in the midst of a daily poll rollout.

We'll just have to have to Buck-eye up, affix the appropriate disclaimers and soldier on.

One Las Vegas bookmaker immediately downgraded Ohio State's national title odds from 10-1 to 40-1, but the Buckeyes weren't going to win it all anyway. However, Miller was the catalyst in Ohio State's hopes of reaching this season's four-team playoff.

He is a three-year starter who last season accounted for 3,162 total yards and 36 touchdowns in leading the Buckeyes to a 12-2 record.

He was the reason Coach Urban Meyer said only days ago, "it does have the feel of a good team," even though Ohio State is replacing four starters along the offensive line.

Miller had surgery on his throwing shoulder in February after injuring it during last season's Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. Recovery was reportedly on schedule even though Miller complained in recent days of shoulder soreness and fatigue.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of Miller's shoulder earlier this month, "Structurally, he's fine." Miller assured all "the shoulder is 100%."

But during practice on Monday, Miller grabbed his shoulder after throwing a pass and left the field for evaluation. On Tuesday, it was revealed that more surgery would be required.

Miller said in a statement that he planned to return next year "stronger and better than ever" as a fifth-year graduate student.

His injury changes the Super 16 calculus and further dilutes a Big Ten Conference that anticipated the Buckeyes, along with defending champion Michigan State and Wisconsin, to carry the banner.

Ohio State fans must now familiarize themselves with backup quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

Barrett, a highly touted dual-threat freshman from Texas, reportedly has the edge over Jones. Barrett is a relative no-name, but this time last year how many people knew about Jameis Winston? Or Johnny Manziel two summers ago?

The sky won't crash, because Meyer is a top-shelf coach and the schedule is padded with seven games Ohio State could win with almost any quarterback.

The team's home schedule has Kent State, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Illinois and Indiana. A neutral site opener at Navy, in Baltimore, is still a very winnable game, as is the game at Maryland on Oct. 4.

The mystery is how many victories can be plucked from the remaining five — Virginia Tech, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and the rival known as "that team up north" — Michigan.

Any injury to a key player this late in August blows up the preseason polls.

Ohio State opened at No. 6 in the USA Today coaches' poll and at No. 5 in the Associated Press media poll. Uncertainty now creates a gooey spot in the heart of the top 10 and immediately improves the forecast for Michigan State.

This isn't the first injury to wreck a poll, and you never know when they'll strike. Oregon, in 2007, appeared poised for a championship run until star quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Ducks stumbled to a 9-4 finish.

That opened a passing lane for Louisiana State to become the only two-loss champion of the Bowl Championship Series era.

People in Baton Rouge loved it, and not many of them sent Oregon flowers.

The countdown so far: 16. Notre Dame, 15. Mississippi, 14. Stanford, 13. Louisiana State, 12. Michigan State, 11. USC, 10. Baylor, 9. Georgia, 8. South Carolina.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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