Ohio State Buckeyes football coach Luke Fickell has named fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, not freshman dual-threat phenom Braxton Miller, starting quarterback for the season opener against Akron.
While I understand – and will outline – the reasons Fickell has made this decision, I don’t agree with it.
I must disclose something up front: I am not a fan of Ohio State. I root for the Maize and Blue of Michigan. My rooting interests, however, are not a factor in my belief that Fickell is making a mistake.
In fact, as a fan, I would prefer Bauserman start against the Wolverines, as their rebuilding (see: bad) defense would surely handle a pocket passer like Bauserman more easily than a dynamic runner like Miller. The fact that Miller is from Huber Heights, Ohio, a city I have called home, has nothing to do with my analysis, either.
Fickell is in a tough spot. While he no longer has the “interim” tag before his title, in many ways it feels as if he does. Most people expect the Buckeyes to go after a big name coach after the season, which leaves Fickell in the impossible position of needing to win, and win a lot. Even though most Ohio State fans are giving him a vote of confidence now, it is obvious he is a bridge to the next great Buckeye coach.
Given these circumstances, Fickell feels he must approach this season aggressively, but only so far as is needed to deliver a respectable win/loss record to the rabid Buckeye fan base and potentially keep himself in Columbus.
Joe Bauserman is 25 years old and has never started a game for Ohio State. Fickell’s stated reason for starting him is his experience and familiarity in the system. I think the decision is intentionally conservative, and Fickell believes that there is a lower risk involved with starting Bauserman.
This season, Fickell is auditioning for his job – be it staying at Ohio State or moving on to another head coaching position should the Buckeyes look for a top-shelf coach to replace him at season’s end. In Fickell’s mind, why take a chance on Miller when it could cost him his job if the freshman stumbles, especially in an early game against a lower tier school?
What he is losing sight of is the future of his program.
Fickell must coach the Buckeyes with the thought he will be back next season. Developing the program’s quarterback of the future is a necessity, especially when that quarterback is a prospect on Miller’s level.
The reality is that I could probably quarterback Ohio State to a victory against Akron, simply by handing off 75 times. But Fickell is clearly showing apprehension in his first major coaching decision, and that is worrisome. Better knowledge of a system and playbook doesn’t always translate to a better record on the field. Recent history has shown us that freshmen quarterbacks can come in and have success, even at the highest levels of college football.
Michigan’s Chad Henne was given the staring nod in his 2004 freshman season by coach Lloyd Carr. He went on to lead the Wolverines to a 9-3 record that season and start the next three years. He endured some tough times as a freshman, but the experience he gained outweighed the struggles on the field.
Texas’ Colt McCoy started for 4 years as well. He progressively improved each year, and by the time his Texas career was over he had amassed a record of 45-8 and had a trip to the BCS National Championship game to his credit.
Matt Stafford was thrust into Georgia’s starting role as a freshman due to an injury to starter Joe Tereshinski III, and he proceeded to struggle mightily (although still leading the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record that freshman year) before maturing into the number-one overall selection in the NFL draft after his junior season.
For the ultimate example of why Miller, the highly touted freshman, should start we need look no further than Ohio State in 2008. Remember when Terrelle Pryor was a freshman and Todd Boeckman was named starter? Immediately fans clamored for a look at the prodigiously gifted Pryor, and eventually they got their wish after a 35-3 drubbing at the hands of USC, in which Boeckman started and threw two interceptions. Once Pryor took over, the Buckeyes were dominant, going 31-5 in games he started.
I know that Miller will play in the opener and likely will end up starting at some point this season. I just think that in order to benefit the program and prepare Miller for his future as star quarterback of the Buckeyes, Fickell needs to insert him into the lineup immediately and let him learn on the go. With Miller starting the Buckeyes would almost certainly win, so Fickell shouldn’t fear a job-threatening loss so early.
By the time they face Miami in the 2011 Scandal Bowl in week 3, they could be in a position where Miller has two full games under his belt, and the confidence of winning (unless Akron or Toledo pulled an upset – unlikely at best) college football games. Miami would provide a hostile road environment and prepare him for a Big Ten schedule that is rougher than usual with the addition of a road game at Nebraska.
So come on, Coach Fickell. Let’s see what the kid’s got. It’s worked out pretty well in the past, you know.