Published Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:23 pm
FOOTBALL
Barfknecht: OSU is best and Legends Division is a mess

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a fun little storyline while it lasted.

With Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller nursing a sprained knee ligament, backup Kenny Guiton threw 13 touchdown passes in 2 1/2 games, ran for 7.4 yards a carry and kept the fourth-ranked Buckeyes humming.

Heady times for the fifth-year senior from Houston, who planned to attend Prairie View A&M before OSU offered a late scholarship in 2009.

Guiton's performance even led to semiserious speculation last week that Ohio State might have a quarterback controversy.

Never mind.

Miller returned at full speed Saturday night, and OSU needed all of his talents to subdue Wisconsin 31-24.

The junior from Huber Heights, Ohio, didn't finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year for nothing. What he does is the definition of a difference-maker.

“Braxton did have a heck of a day,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “He played very well. And we played against a very good defense.”

Anyone worried about Miller being rusty had his or her anxiety relieved quickly.

On Miller's fourth snap, he rolled left and threw a 25-yard bullet back to the middle of the end zone for a touchdown. He went on to throw three more touchdown passes, showing a much-improved touch along with above-average arm strength.

But the third-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history came to see Miller run. His cutting, slashing and breakaway speed turbo-charge the Buckeye offense.

In the first quarter, Miller passed seven times — completing six — and ran just once, admitting he had some qualms about cutting loose.

“Just a little bit in the beginning of the game,” he said. “You loosen up after awhile.”

Miller, who wears a brace, had key runs of 14 and 10 yards in Ohio State's drive that produced a touchdown with one second left in the first half. He zipped a 40-yard scoring pass to Philly Brown, one play after launching a flutter ball that cornerback Sojourn Shelton dropped near the goal line.

“It slipped out of my hands,” Miller said. “I can't make excuses. It's on me. I told Coach, 'Let's throw it again.' I made up for it with the next throw.”

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In the second half, with the Wisconsin defense cracking down on tailback Carlos Hyde, Miller ran the ball 15 times as the Buckeyes hung on after building a 31-14 lead. The offense finished turnover-free.

Miller pooh-poohed any talk about a quarterback controversy or making a statement with his play Saturday night.

“I don't really look into how the media deals with that,” he said. “It don't bother me. I was just going out to have fun and lead my team.

“I am proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out. I look at him as a big brother.”

With Miller back at full skill, he has regained his status as the best quarterback in the Big Ten. And it never hurts to bet on the team with the best quarterback, which is why I'm declaring the Big Ten Leaders Division over even though it is still September.

Wisconsin would have to win out while OSU would need to lose twice for the Badgers to get to Indianapolis on Dec. 7.

With one side of the Big Ten title pairing essentially set, any guesses on who represents the Legends Division? First, do any of those six want to? The level of play so far doesn't indicate it.

Northwestern has the toughest schedule, the best quarterback situation and the burden of newfound expectations.

Michigan State has the best schedule, the best defense and the worst offense.

Iowa has the most momentum. The Hawkeyes, beaten down by two seasons of criticism, have quietly established offensive rhythm and are starting to get some playmaking on defense. With Michigan State coming to Iowa City this week, it's the perfect time for Iowa to make a real statement.

Michigan has a confidence issue after putrid efforts against Akron and Connecticut. Questions about quarterback Devin Gardner and an inconsistent running game won't go away.

Nebraska has to live with the fact that senior quarterback Taylor Martinez (turf toe) may not hit full speed the rest of the season, and that South Dakota State, which ran for 9,000 yards against NU, had minus-32 rushing in a 20-0 loss to North Dakota State.

Sorry, Minnesota. You can't get drilled as badly as you were at home by Iowa and consider yourself a contender, regardless of how mediocre this division is.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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