Miller's Not In NYC, But He Grew In 2013

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded in New York City tonight and Braxton Miller won't be there, but that doesn't mean the highly decorated signal caller was a disappointment in 2013. In fact, his coaches outlined exactly how the OSU QB improved during his junior season.

It's Saturday, December 14, and Braxton Miller is not in New York City.

One could argue that was supposed to be the plan for the third-year Ohio State starting quarterback – he got his feet wet as a freshman in 2011, finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting while leading an undefeated team in 2012 and then was supposed to make a serious run at the stiff-arm trophy as a junior in '13.

Of course, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to Manhattan.

Miller will not be one of the six players in the Best Buy Theater tonight when the award goes to Jameis Winston, who appears to be on his way to capturing the award by a near-record margin. The Ohio State quarterback's chances likely disappeared the moment he tweaked his left knee while scrambling for a fourth-down conversion in the second game of the season vs. San Diego State, an injury that kept him out of the lineup for nearly three full games.

He nearly climbed back into the race with a midseason flurry, but his 8-for-21 throwing performance in the loss vs. Michigan State was the final nail in the coffin when it came to a trip to the city that never sleeps.

But to label this season as a bust for Miller would be far from accurate.

Just ask his position coach, Tom Herman, who doubles as the Buckeyes offensive coordinator. When asked just how far Miller had progressed this year, his assessment was telling – by "leaps and bounds."

"The kid is legitimately a quarterback that happens to be really athletic," Herman said, a take on the line that Miller was previously just an athlete playing quarterback. "We certainly have a lot of room for improvement. ... "To answer your question, I don't know how to quantify how much further he can go, (but) the sky is the limit. As long as continues to work as he has these last couple of months, I don't know where the limit is."

Through 2013, there were signs of just how good Miller could be. He finished the season with 22 passing touchdowns against just five interceptions – exactly his average number of picks per season in his three years at Ohio State. He has yet again topped the 1,000-yard mark as a rusher, and he completed a career-high 63.2 percent of his passing attempts.

Then there was the three-game stretch in the middle of the season vs. Iowa, Penn State and Purdue in which Miller completed 79.7 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and just a single interception.

But much of Miller's story can't be told totally with stats – though if it were, his 46.3 percent completion percentage in the last four games would have to be added into account – or trophies, including his second consecutive Big Ten Silver Football as league MVP.

Head coach Urban Meyer described Miller's growth as "night and day" fundamentally from a year ago – but it wasn't always in the way the quarterback broke down defenses or threaded the needle with his arm that impressed his head coach.

"The first thing we look at, and I actually learned this from Jeff Tedford when I was a young coach and I wanted to hear from a quarterback coach – What is the first thing you go look for?" Meyer said before the Big Ten title game. "And No. 1 is competitive spirit. And that's what I see out of Braxton Miller. He's an extreme competitor right now. He's always been a very good competitor and I think he's crossed that threshold and is an extreme, extreme competitor right now.

"Second thing you look at is toughness. He's a tough guy. You can't play quarterback at this level and with what we expect a quarterback to do (without having toughness). So without question, those are the two characteristics. I've coached a couple of championship quarterbacks, and competitive spirit and toughness are the first two things you look for."

Perhaps some of that growth could be attributed to backup Kenny Guiton. The senior stepped in and led three nonconference wins, setting a new school record with six touchdown passes (all in the first half) vs. Florida A&M, and was impressive enough that he was summoned to warm up when the Buckeyes were struggling at Northwestern and Miller lost a second-half fumble at the goal line.

Miller went back in the game, though, eventually leading a second-half comeback vs. the Wildcats. The rest of the way, Miller was the man, but his relationship with Guiton – someone he likens to the big brother – helped along the way.

"Braxton was recruited, came to Ohio State. Right before he got here, there were a bunch of things that occurred and he became a starting quarterback as a true freshman. Never truly learned how to properly prepare for a game – certainly not last year," Meyer said.

"His sophomore year, he was Big Ten Player of the Year, but he ever prepared the way we'd like a quarterback to prepare. His last month and a half, both him and Kenny, Tom Herman has done an excellent job with that. I mean, he is preparing like a big-time quarterback should. So I think it's all about his preparation."

Unlike some quarterbacks who have been in the news throughout the season, Miller isn't much for talking. In many ways, the Huber Heights, Ohio, native prefers to let his playing do the talking, and that's what he did this season.

"I know he missed some games … but I think he's Heisman worthy," Meyer said before the MSU game. "I've been around a Heisman Trophy quarterback and certainly Braxton is in that conversation."

He just won't be there, but make no mistake.

2013 was a good year for Braxton Miller.

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