CHICAGO -- The Big Ten’s reigning offensive player of the year couldn’t stop yawning.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller wasn’t trying to be rude. The questions focused on his Heisman Trophy candidacy and Ohio State’s national championship aspirations, and he gave some thoughtful answers.
But the multitalented junior yawned as if this whole late-July morning was going in slow motion.
“I’m hungry,” Miller said, smiling. “I missed breakfast.”
For all the hype being bestowed on Ohio State after last year’s 12-0, bowl-ineligible season, the Buckeyes' highly decorated leader doesn’t seem overly amped. That’s not his style.
“I think Braxton’s best quality is his humility,” Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. “He doesn’t let things go to his head. He was brought up the right way. … He doesn’t have that superstar mentality.”
Maybe that’s because Miller knows that for all his success, he still has a long way to go. He set an Ohio State record for total offense last year, with 2,039 yards passing and 1,271 rushing.
But Miller also completed only 58.3 percent of his passes. Last month, when NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his list of top 50 NFL prospects, Miller ranked 12th among college quarterbacks.
The quarterbacks atop that list were Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron. There were six more ahead of Miller, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting last year. The reasoning: Miller, for now, lacks the necessary downfield accuracy.
Miller pushed himself to improve over the offseason. Without a bowl game for which to prepare, he spent Christmas break in San Diego, getting specialized instruction from George Whitfield Jr., who has tutored such quarterbacks as Manziel, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
“My fundamentals got a lot better,” Miller said.
The rest of Ohio State’s offense struggled early last season, and coach Urban Meyer wondered aloud where his team would have been without Miller. Eventually, running back Carlos Hyde, wide receiver Corey Brown and others picked up their performance.
All the returnees should be more comfortable this year, in their second season under Meyer. His second-year success at previous schools speaks for itself — 9-3 at Bowling Green, 12-0 at Utah, 13-1 at Florida.
With Buckeyes fans clamoring for their first national title since 2002, Ohio State went back in the news for the wrong reasons in July, as Hyde (three games) and standout cornerback Bradley Roby (one game) were both suspended from the team for incidents at bars.
Are the Buckeyes focused enough for the challenges that lie ahead? The biggest nonconference hurdles will be games against San Diego State and at California. Wisconsin comes to Columbus for the Big Ten opener Sept. 28, a game that could end up determining the Leaders Division title.
Another test comes Oct. 5 at Northwestern, and Ohio State closes the regular season at Michigan on Nov. 30. Of course, there’s a chance Ohio State and Michigan could meet again one week later in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Miller said all that talk is nice, but for now, the team doesn’t want to look past Saturday’s opener against Buffalo. Meyer has been in the quarterback’s ear, keeping him focused on the process, not results.
“He knows what it takes, how prepared you have to be to be on the next level,” Miller said. “He always tells me I’m almost there. I’m close, but he tells me the little things that I have to work on to get myself to that point.”
Path leads to Ohio State
Meyer recruited Miller when he was coaching at Florida. A standout at Wayne (Ohio) High School, Miller committed to play for Jim Tressel at Ohio State at the end of his junior year.
Tressel resigned after Ohio State was hit with NCAA sanctions, but interim coach Luke Fickell still turned over the offense to Miller as a true freshman in 2011, as the Buckeyes went 6-7. Then Meyer arrived in Columbus, where he got the chance to work with Miller after all.
“I relied on my instinct and went to Ohio State, and now he’s here with me,” Miller said. “So it worked out real good.”
Meyer has called Miller one of the greatest athletes he’s ever seen. Miller has run the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds — comparable to NFL wide receivers — and has bench pressed 385 pounds.
“I go back to Percy Harvin,” said Meyer, who coached Harvin at Florida. “I say he has the best first step I’ve ever seen, and Braxton is in that category.”
Meyer added, “He’s done some things even in practice where you just shake your head.”
But it’s not only Miller’s video game talent that resonates with teammates.
“A lot of guys look up to him,” Mewhort said. “He does a great job of permeating his humility through the team. So I appreciate that, and I know a lot of guys do.
“He does such a good job of keeping that superstar thing under wraps that when you’re playing with him, it’s almost like he doesn’t get how good he is.”