Jan 3, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) runs past Clemson Tigers safety Robert Smith (27) for a touchdown in the first half during the 2014 Orange Bowl college football game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Buckeyes Lose Braxton, Big Ten Up for Grabs

Just two weeks before the start of the college football season, the Big Ten status-quo just had some dynamite lit under it. Ohio State’s star quarterback Braxton Miller is likely out for the season with a shoulder injury, according to Gil Brandt, pulling the Big Ten favorites back to the pack.

Without Miller, the Buckeyes will probably look to JT Barrett, a redshirted freshman. Barrett has strong mechanics and a quick release, which will have to make up for his lack of arm strength. He also hasn’t played a snap of football in two years, after missing his senior year of college and redshirting last year. Even if Barrett plays really well, and that’s a big “if”, there’s still going to be a drop-off from Miller, who’s one of the best five to ten QBs in the country. Barrett just doesn’t have the same type of upside as Miller. Urban Meyer will have to work to adapt the offense to the new signal caller, replacing the deep passing and play-action plays that Miller thrived on with more short-passing and conservative running plays.

There’s no certainty that Ohio State’s offense will allow them to be a top team, just a lot of question marks and concerns so close to week one.

So how does the Big Ten look now?

Well, Ohio State still can’t be thrown out of the conversation, thanks to their relatively soft conference-schedule. They don’t face a real challenge until late October, when they visit Penn State. They also have to travel to East Lansing, for what will be one of the premier games of this Big Ten season, on November 8th. Finally, they host Michigan to close the season. If Barrett can be somewhere between competent and decent, the Buckeyes still have a shot at winning the East Division.

But they are no longer the favorites. Right now, it would be hard to argue with Michigan State being the best team in the Big Ten. They were able to beat Ohio State last season in the Big Ten Title game and are the closest in terms of talent. With Miller out of the equation, the Spartans are on top in talent and their terrific defense has got to feel confident about playing the Buckeyes sans Miller at home this year.

Then, Michigan enters the East Division conversation. The Wolverines and Penn State seem to be the next tier in the division, below Michigan State and Ohio State. If Michigan can solidify their young defense and scrap together a good combination on the offensive line, they can challenge the top dogs. Devin Gardner now moves up to arguably being the best quarterback in the Big Ten, along with Christian Hackenberg of Penn State. They should be favorites in each Big Ten game, minus their extremely tough road games at Michigan State and Ohio State.

The more one looks at the East Division without Braxton Miller, the less clear it becomes. There are four teams that are legitimate threats to win the division. Michigan State is probably the favorites but Ohio State still has a ton of talent. Michigan has a soft schedule and could have a lot to play for in Columbus. Penn State could have an explosive offense with Hackenberg and an exciting new coach in James Franklin.

Oh, and the West Division also sorta exists.

Now we have some drama.

You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdalecfb

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