Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Braxton Miller’s race for the Heisman is officially on after his coach, Urban Meyer, endorsed the sophomore quarterback’s candidacy.
“Do I believe he’s a Heisman candidate? I do. I didn’t say that before,” Meyer said. “From just sheer production of a team that’s 9-0, it puts him in that category, and that’s without knowing the other candidates.”
The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the “most outstanding player in collegiate football” and is decided from votes cast by living Heisman winners, journalists from across the country and a fan vote.
Meyer does not get a vote, but his Monday nod for Miller’s consideration was the first time all year he did not dismiss the notion. His opinion might be significant considering Meyer has coached one Heisman winner and another finalist.
In 2004, Meyer was at the University of Utah and the team finished a perfect 12-0. His then-quarterback and current starter for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers Alex Smith was invited to the Heisman ceremony and finished fourth in the voting.
While at the University of Florida Meyer tutored a three-time Heisman finalist in current New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Gator quarterback became the first sophomore to win the award in 2007, then went on to finish third in 2008 and fifth in 2009.
To win the award, though, Meyer added Miller “has to play much better.”
ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich agreed with OSU’s first-year coach, and OSU football historian Jack Park said he believes Miller is destined for legendary things.
In a Thursday phone interview, Matich said he has to finish the season strong to be considered for the Heisman, but Miller has impressed everyone with his courage.
“The way he has carried the team at times when no one else could – that’s an intangible that is outstanding,” Matich said.
OSU football has dealt with Heisman candidacy buzz surrounding a player for decades. The Buckeyes are tied for the most Heisman trophies with seven and have had at least one player finish second or win the award in every decade since the 40’s.
In the case of Miller, the cloud of the Buckeye’s penalties from the NCAA surrounds his candidacy.
“Some voters won’t vote for a player that his team is on probation,” Park said.
Miller’s arm and his legs have put him in the position to win the award. During OSU’s win against Penn State last Saturday Miller eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground, becoming the third quarterback in Big Ten history accomplish the feat.
Miller has the fifth most rushing yards of any player, regardless of position, in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,093. He also has the second most rushing touchdowns in the Big Ten with 12.
“His start-stop lateral movement is quick as any I have seen,” Matich said. “He’ll actually stop and the defender will stop and he will burst away … leaving the defender standing still.”
Against Penn State, Miller scored two rushing touchdowns and showed his athletic ability on a play at the one-yard line with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Miller pulled the ball out of the hands of junior running back Carlos Hyde just as Hyde was being tackled, jumped back to avoid a diving defender and dove into the end zone all on the same play.
“I’ve never seen any guy do anything like that. Just the way he got in – juked 26 guys to get in there – was just amazing, but that’s nothing new for him. I was surprised but then I realized who was doing it,” OSU redshirt junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said Monday.
Led by Miller, OSU has a 9-0 record and is ranked No. 6 in the country by the Associated Press.
Of the last 12 Heisman winners, eight played in that season’s National Championship game and held a combined record of 127-19, not including wins vacated from NCAA sanctions.
Since 1935, seven Heisman winners have been on a team with four or more losses and once has the player’s team had a record below .500. Quarterback Paul Hornung won in 1956 after leading Notre Dame to a 2-8 record.
Miller was not on the list of Heisman favorites at the beginning of the this season, but Matich doesn’t believe that will hold him back.
“The last three Heisman winners were not talked about at the beginning of the season,” Matich said.
The 2011 winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III, exploded on the scene after Baylor’s opening upset victory over TCU and threw more touchdowns than incompletion passes in his first three games.
The 2010 winner, quarterback Cam Newton, was not on Auburn’s roster during the 2009 season, as he transferred from Blinn College in Texas.
Running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 winner, had 782 total yards and 12 touchdowns in his freshman year. As a sophomore and Heisman winning year he scored 20 touchdowns and more than doubled total yardage with 1992 yards.
In a press release, it was announced that Miller has been named one of the 16 semifinalists for a different collegiate player of the year award, the Maxwell Award.
Park does not think Miller will win the Heisman this year but said, “it is a small possibility that OSU has the only two two-time Heisman winners.”
OSU is scheduled to play at home against Big Ten Leaders division opponent Illinois at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.