Numbers aren’t everything, and relying solely on what they may or may not reveal is a dangerous approach to sports comparisons. Professional baseball is a sport built on them; college football is not. With that said, they can guide us in the direction of an educated opinion and can indeed tell a story depending on how they’re manipulated, and therein lies the problem.
In every sports debate you walk into, or create with your own agenda in mind, numbers are thrown around like darts at a break neck pace, all in an effort to sway the other party towards your side of belief. Raw numbers are used inappropriately while projected future stats are used to manipulate the comparisons. But numbers are near impossible to avoid when debating team-versus-team, player-versus-player. They tell a story, but they rarely close with, “The End.”
The one I want to tell today is pretty cut and dry in the mind of this Buckeye fan, with or without numbers, and may just be laced with Scarlet and Gray bias from start to finish. But it’s a very simple stance: Braxton Miller will be the greatest quarterback Urban Meyer has coached during his decade of excellence as a head college football coach. Period.
First, the numbers that preface nearly every sports debate to be had. There’s really no use in completely avoiding them, so let’s allow them to move us on down the road.
Here are five sets of statistics detailing the overall offensive performance of five different college football quarterbacks over a period of twelve games:
- Player A | Total Yards – 3,970 TD – 51 INT – 6
- Player B | Total Yards – 3,583 TD – 42 INT – 4
- Player C | Total Yards – 4,316 TD – 46 INT – 6
- Player D | Total Yards – 1,893 TD – 18 INT – 10
- Player E | Total Yards – 2,774 TD – 26 INT – 11
So who are the five players listed above? Those are Urban Meyer’s five most well-known collegiate quarterbacks and their respective cumulative performances over their first twelve starts with Meyer calling the shots.
Braxton Miller was slid in there, but he’s only played two games under Meyer and his new system. For comparison’s reasons we’ve extrapolated his two-game totals over a twelve-game season. We’ll ultimately focus on total yards, touchdowns and interceptions as, regardless of how earned (through the air or on the ground), those are how the quarterback position is judged.
Bowling Green’s Joshua Harris is the only other quarterback we compiled stats for, aside from Miller, that didn’t play a year in Meyer’s system before becoming Urban’s starter. That immediately gives Utah’s Alex Smith and Florida’s combination of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow a bit of an advantage right from the start. But we plug away…
With respect to total yards gained and total touchdowns, three players have separated themselves from the pack. It’s not much of a surprise to see the two who just don’t stack up in the comparison are Harris (Player D) and Leak (Player E).
Each of the three remaining (Players A, B and C) completed passes at a rate that’s within two percentage points of one another. Each takes care of the ball about the same, with comparable interception totals against very similar pass attempts. Player B lags behind a bit in overall yards gained and touchdowns accounted for. That would be Utah junior quarterback and current San Francisco 49er Alex Smith.
That leaves us with two:
Player A – Florida sophomore Tim Tebow
Player C – Ohio State sophomore Braxton Miller
Tim Tebow is widely regarded as one of the greatest college football players of all time (much different from greatest quarterback of all time), so Brax has a tall task in front of him over the next two to three seasons. But there are a couple important items to note when trying to compare the two.
One, the stats above for Tebow, his sophomore year as a Gator, came en route to winning the Heisman trophy. At the time, most felt it was a safe assumption that the Florida star, with a least one if not two seasons remaining in Gainesville, would join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in the history of college football. That prediction wouldn’t come to pass, as Tebow was never able to repeat his sophomore performance, statistically speaking, in either of his final two seasons in college.
A dip in production, or failure to win a second stiff arm trophy, doesn’t take away from the fact that Tebow is the best college quarterback Urban Meyer has coached to date. Very few would argue that. But what it does mean is that he hasn’t set the bar so high that continued growth and progression from Braxton Miller can’t surpass him.
The other item of note we must consider in the comparison is that Miller’s stats are extrapolated over a twelve-game season based on his performance over the past two weeks. This is problematic only in that the defenses he’s faced (Miami and Central Florida) don’t fully compare to what he’ll face against, say, Michigan State, or what Tebow saw against Alabama or LSU. This is where we’re now tasked to fill in the blanks, statistics aside, to find an applicable comparison between the two.
Tim Tebow was a physical specimen to reckon with at the college ranks, hauling around 240 pounds on a 6’3” frame while setting numerous Florida and national records during a 2007 season in which he brought home the Heisman Trophy in spite of losing three regular season games. His passing abilities were questioned even then, but he was able to thrive in the fast-paced offense Meyer employed. He was a wrecking ball on the goal line his entire career and a tank on the run when he got out of the pocket and into a team’s secondary, but he was never the refined quarterback that Braxton Miller will almost certainly grow into.
Braxton is considerably smaller than Tebow, built at 6’2” and only 210 pounds, but he’s a much greater athlete than what Tebow was. Where Tebow could run through people on his way to a twenty-one yard gain, Miller is much quicker laterally to make people miss and has straight-line speed that can send him on 65+ yard touchdown scampers as we’ve already seen this season. As far as the ground game is concerned – advantage Miller.
Braxton has also shown flashes of greatness in the passing game, something Tebow hasn’t locked down even today as he’s in the news on a near-daily basis for his shortcomings at the QB position for the New York Jets. Braxton has plenty of work to put in and progress to make before we can call him “refined,” but his mechanics and arm strength aren’t too far off of what we ultimately watched Heisman winner Troy Smith become. Braxton is probably a better passer today than what Tebow was or is, and has the tools and time needed to better himself in that aspect. Advantage – Miller.
As we look at the comparison today, we’re forced into projections and assumptions, but there are two things within this ultimate comparison that we don’t need to assume simply because they’ve already come to fruition: Tim Tebow has a Heisman Trophy of his own and two National Championship rings. Keep in mind that the first was earned as a back-up to Chris Leak, but Tebow willed the Gators to their second national title as the starter under Meyer and one of the focal points of that offense. Braxton Miller has neither, and is staring a bowl ban directly in the face as a sophomore.
So what needs to happen for Miller to get himself into the official conversation and ultimately surpass Tebow on the college level? That answer begins and ends with the hardware previously mentioned.
It won’t matter what kind of eye-popping numbers Miller puts up if he can’t win a Heisman and/or a national title before he’s done in Scarlet and Gray. Do you know who puts up eye-popping numbers and won’t win either, and will therefore go down in history as another flash in the pan?
In order for Braxton to catch and ultimately pass Tebow as Meyer’s best quarterback in his then-thirteen-year head coaching career, a national championship has to be on the horizon. A couple of bowl wins won’t get it done. A quick visit to New York City’s Heisman presentation isn’t going to get it done. Posting ridiculous numbers game after game, with no hardware to show for it, isn’t going to get it done.
Braxton has a warm-up year here in 2012 and then it’s simply game on. He’s going to have two seasons, with another year of development already under his belt, to get it done. Will he win two national titles and two Heisman’s? Absolutely not. But don’t be surprised if he pulls double duty and wins a pair of Heisman Trophies, much like the current President of The Ohio State University Alumni Association, and brings home a shiny new crystal trophy to Columbus before all is said and done.
We’re all plenty excited about Saturday’s match-up with Pac-12 foe Cal, but if you sneak a glance over the Ohio State football horizon at the next two-plus years – business is about to pick up.