SCOTTSDALE, AZ – The quarterback who was supposed to lead Ohio State to a national championship but couldn’t and the quarterback who steered the Buckeyes to last year’s national championship both appear likely to play supporting, not starring roles in Friday’s Fiesta Bowl.
Two shoulder surgeries have transformed Braxton Miller from the electric quarterback he was from 2011-2013 to a third or fourth option at wide receiver. And Cardale Jones, the hero of last year’s postseason run, might not even play with J.T. Barrett now firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback.
The Fiesta Bowl will be the final game at Ohio State for both Miller and Jones.
Miller is ending a five-year run in OSU’s program and Jones confirmed Wednesday at Fiesta Bowl media day that he hopes to be in the NFL next season.
Both say they will leave without regrets. Or at least none that they wish to share.
“A lot of guys have a lot of what-ifs. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that,” Miller said about the two shoulder surgeries that robbed him first of an entire season in 2014 and then of the ability to throw the ball with the necessary velocity to play quarterback this season.
Jones said it was simply time for him to move on. As a fourth-year junior, he could return to Ohio State or possibly do a graduate transfer. But he said neither of those interests him. “I don’t want to be a 24-year-old college student. “My loyalty, my heart is at Ohio State. I would come back and sit another year before I would transfer to any school,” he said.
Miller caught 24 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 234 yards on 40 carries this fall in his only season as a receiver.
Those are humble, and perhaps a little humbling numbers for a quarterback who passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both 2013 and 2012.
When Miller caught a 54-yard touchdown pass and scored on a 53-yard run, including a dazzling spin move, in this season’s opener at Virginia Tech, hopes were high he could be nearly as spectacular at receiver as he had been at quarterback. But he could not repeat that early success.
Regardless of that drop-off, Miller says he was satisfied with his season because he knows his playing career could have been over after two surgeries for the same torn labrum injury to his throwing arm.
“I’m just blessed to be back out there. Two arm surgeries are no joke. I don’t wish that on anybody. That’s tough. Fortunately I had graduated and had enough time to do two rehab sets every day to get my arm ready for a whole year,” he said.
All season long, the thought was that Miller agreed to switch to wide receiver because that was where a possible future in the NFL might be. But he might not have completely given up on playing quarterback.
He said he plans to throw during workouts for NFL scouts and that he can throw the ball 40 to 45 yards with some zip on it.
He said he would not throw deep balls but thinks he can throw comebacks, crossing routes, slants and hitches.
“I’m just blessed to be as athletic as I am. I can still be a quarterback if I want to but my position is receiver,” he said.
Asked if he has thought about what his position in Ohio State football history might be, Miller said he has thought about what his legacy could be.
“You always want to leave a legacy at Ohio State. I want to be a legend just like everybody else who has come through here. I think I made a great impact on Ohio State from my freshman year to my fifth year as a receiver. The things I accomplished as a quarterback, I feel very proud of,” he said.
And now he has one more game to add to the things he has done as a receiver.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.