|Not surprisingly, Bauserman and I have the exact same throwing motion...and the exact same skill set.|
To put it rather bluntly, the offense sucked. I mean it really, really sucked. In the aftermath of the debacle, Coach Luke Fickell has an awful lot of questions to answer -- questions about his receivers, his offensive line, the distribution of carries, the run defense, the play calling, and the overall game plan. Looming above all these questions however, is the growing QB controversy. As with any team, the QB issue is the most important problem for Ohio State to solve; a prescription that could theoretically solve or ease most of the Buckeye's other ailments.
Against Miami, both QB's were bad. Really, really bad. Senior starter Joe Bauserman couldn't get the ball to his own guys, while freshman backup Braxton Miller couldn't stop giving it to the other guys! Either way, Ohio State was screwed. So, it would seem that the question is a difficult one to answer, right? Wrong. Replacing Bauserman with Braxton Miller is as big a no-brainer as exists in the sports world! Yet, for some reason, Coach Fickell seems oddly opposed to that idea. There are only two possible reasons why this is the case, and neither of them are even remotely logical.
1. Fickell does not want to throw Braxton into the fray before he's ready, for fear that he will ruin his career.
This line of thinking is incredibly popular with "old-school" football people who think early struggles can potentially kill a young QB's confidence and psyche. Personally, I think this is crap. Part of that is my "Madden" way of thinking, where I eagerly insert every rookie possible in an attempt to boost their ratings as soon as possible and rack up impossibly high stats over the course of their careers. The other part (the much, much larger part) is due to the lack of any evidence suggesting this theory has any plausibility.
Now, in no way am I suggesting that experience is irrelevant. There is certainly a mountain of statistical evidence to prove a steep learning curve for freshman/rookies. To say that Braxton Miller should be capable of immediately producing like an All-American is absolutely ludicrous and I am not making that point at all. Certainly, Coach Fickell understands the learning curve that Braxton would be working on, and he most assuredly factored this in when selecting Joe Bauserman as the teams starting QB.
My point is that it's wrong to assume that Braxton's early struggles will somehow "ruin" his career. Seriously, how is that even possible? If you can play football, then you can play football! Sure, my opinion flies in the face of some of the top personnel men in football, but I feel completely justified in saying they are wrong. The evidence simply does not support that idea. For example:
If early struggles ruined careers, then why how did Peyton Manning turn out so well after tossing a record 28 INT's his rookie season? How did John Elway end up in the HOF after posting an abysmal 7-14 TD-INT ratio in 10 starts during his rookie campaign? Or what about Troy Aikman's 0-11 record in his 1989 debut season? Honestly, I could go on and on with this list, from former stars like Phil Simms and Terry Bradshaw, to current ones such as Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman. Why haven't all of these players flamed out after difficult starts to their careers?
While I'm on the subject, why don't we talk about a few players who got the benefit of sitting and "learning?" Houston Texans "superstar" Matt Leinart sure was better off for having sat behind Kurt Warner for a few years! All his extra experience definitely helped him when he lost a QB competition to Derek Anderson. Derek Freaking Anderson! Other studs like Tarvaris Jackson, Brady Quinn, and Tommy Maddox also exemplify how beneficial it can be to hold a clipboard.
Now, at this point, a lot of people will be screaming about JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, and Ryan Leaf (among others). Those three were all taken with extremely high picks and forced into action before they were truly ready to lead their teams. Except, unlike Manning and Elway, they never bounced back from their rough start. They never developed, they never got better. Here's the thing...RYAN LEAF SUCKED! He was a nut case that had a huge arm and a tiny brain. David Carr had a goofy side-arm delivery and was severely over-drafted based on his huge stats in the WAC. JaMarcus Russell was...well, he was JaMarcus Russell.
The point isn't that one line of thinking is better than the other -- it's that it really doesn't matter. Playing a rookie will yield rookie results, but it won't ruin the guys career. College football is no different. Matt Barkley had some tough games as a true freshman, but he's pretty darn effective now. Many other guys have struggled out of the gate, only to properly develop and become a very good player. Will Braxton Miller turn the ball over and make dumb plays if he starts this year? Absolutely! Will he end up being college football's version of Macaulay Culkin? Probably not. If the guy can play, then he'll be good. If the guy sucks, then he'll suck no matter when you play him. Good players play well, bad players don't. Simple as that.
2. Fickell knows he must win now to keep his job.
And now we arrive at the truth! Luke Fickell is not the coach of Ohio State. He is the interim coach of Ohio State. There is a HUGE difference in those titles. Yes, I realize that Fickell is technically NOT the interim coach...but we all know the truth. You and I both know that Fickell's job is on the line, and that if the Buckeyes underachieve this year, then Urban Meyer or some other hotshot, high profile name will be interviewing for the vacant head coaching job even before the bowl games kick off. Fair or not, it's just the way it is.
Guess what? Fickell is in on this little secret too! As a former player and long-time assistant coach, Fickell isn't about to take this chance lightly. Think about it, how many guys get a chance to coach Ohio State football? It's a rare honor that only 5 men have held since 1951. It's a coaching fraternity that includes guys like Woody Hayes and the legendary Paul Brown. To say that Fickell wants to keep this job is a severe understatement. With this in mind, it seems reasonable that he would pick the senior to be his starting QB. After all, certainly an experienced player like Joe Bauserman would be more successful at guiding the ship than an untested freshman.
Once again...wrong. This post isn't about OSU bashing and it's not about second guessing after the fact. It's about a coach who made a dumb decision before the first play had ever been run. It's about a team that already had a slim margin for error. And, it's about a thought process that is as antiquated and stupid as the rulebook the NCAA is throwing at Ohio State.
In any competitive contest, the best player should be on the field. Regardless of class, regardless of politics, regardless of anything other than pure ability; the best player MUST be on the field. End of story. Heading into this season, several local Columbus area radio personalities made it their mission to drill the "seniors MUST be given first chance" philosophy deep into my skull. Please, somebody tell me, why must seniors get the first chance? What inherent right does Joe Bauserman's graduating class give him to the QB throne? Last I checked, college football wasn't 15th century England, and teams don't have a ridiculous succession system in place to determine who wears the "crown." In the United States, and in major sports, advancement is merit based...not a product of being a senior!
Now, I'm not talent expert, but I could have told you that Joe Bauserman sucked. One look at his goofy, un-athletic looking, side-arm delivery is all it takes to figure that out. He may very well be the nicest man in the world. He may very well cure cancer! Doesn't mean he can throw...and he most certainly can't.
2-14, 13 yard passing. That was Bauserman's stat line against Miami. Those numbers don't necessarily reveal any flaws in his game as much as they confirm what we already knew about him. At almost 26 years old, Bauserman is long past being a precocious young QB. If he was any good at all, we most certainly would already know.
The fact is, he's not any good, and Ohio State has already shot themselves in the foot by not being honest about it before the damage was done. Braxton Miller has been on campus, working with the team since last spring. That valuable time could have been used to adequately prepare Braxton to replace Terrelle Pryor. Instead, it was used to stage a farce of a QB competition. With any reasonable amount of logic and foresight, Coach Fickell could have immediately began preparing Braxton for the season, given him as many first team reps as possible during practice, gotten him better prepared for the type of scrutiny and pressure an Ohio State QB will face, and gained valuable confidence and game experience for Braxton through two early season wins. Let's face it, Akron and Toledo aren't beating Ohio State...even with a freshman QB! (Note: I know the Toledo game was close, but Braxton can hand off as well as Bauserman. It's not like OSU moved the ball well through the air anyways. They still would have won.)
As we all know, Fickell chose not to do that. He chose to stick with his senior, and now he faces a difficult reality. After the Miami debacle, Ohio State stands at 2-1, outside the top 25 for the first time in 7 years, facing a major QB crisis with a 5 game stretch of Colorado, Michigan State, at Nebraska, at Illinois, and Wisconsin looming ahead. That's a gauntlet for even the most seasoned (and skilled) of QB's...much less a practice squad talent like Bauserman or a totally untested player like Braxton.
The seeds of disaster have already been sown, and a difficult decision rests squarely on Fickell's shoulders. Should he replace Bauserman right now and risk a disastrous outcome, or should he stick with the known quantity...and suffer a disastrous outcome. THAT'S MY POINT! The potential end game of both decisions is the same! If Braxton's learning curve is steep, the Buckeyes end the season with 4 or more losses. If Bauserman remains at QB, the Buckeyes end the season with 4 or more losses. The only difference is that the latter scenario offers absolutely no upside.
Not too long ago, in 2008, Ohio State faced a similar quandary. In the midst of a blow-out loss to USC, Coach Jim Tressel decided to insert highly touted QB Terrelle Pryor into the game. Incumbent starter Todd Boeckman clearly could not play at that level (don't you dare argue, OSU fans!) and Pryor offered the team the only hope of a good season. No, Pyror didn't exactly light the world on fire that year, but he managed to provide enough of a spark to lead the team on a dramatic last minute drive to beat Wisconsin, a win that would help propel them to a co-Big Ten championship. That type of experience certainly aided Pryor and Ohio State during the next season, as they would go on to win the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl.
Much like that 2008 season, Coach Fickell must choose the more talented player. Braxton will certainly struggle early, but there is no substitute for talent. Not even experience. If Bauserman is allowed to continue as the starter, Ohio State fans can expect the worst. These upcoming 5 games could produce some of the worst football since late in John Cooper's tenure. Losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin seem almost assured, with the games against Michigan State and Illinois not looking much easier.
Braxton Miller was the right choice several months ago and he's the right choice today. At this point, he represents the only hope for Ohio State to salvage the season.