(L to R the OSU QB candidates: Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham, and Braxton Miller. Photo via Bucknuts)
The calamities and chaos that have been self-inflicted on the Ohio State football program have been long documented and exhausted. Jim Tressel is gone. Terrelle Pryor is gone. The "we may lose to the SEC but at least we have more integrity" holier than thou attitude is gone too. Much to the chagrin of many fans and pundits though, the perennial Top 10 program remains. It appears that Ohio State will survive serious punishment from the NCAA moving forward in a case that was never anywhere close to as damning as the media led you to believe.
And yet, the winds of change are blowing down the banks of the Olentangy. Luke Fickell has taken the reigns from Jim Tressel, but it's the quarterback position where an immediate successor has not been named to replace Terrelle Pryor (who in spite of all of the criticism for his lack of quarterbacking ability, was 30-4 as a starter, undefeated against Michigan, and won the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl MVP awards).
So now with the tumultuous offseason in the rear view mirror, who will be under center this Fall becomes the major question mark for the Ohio State program. There are four candidates to start September 3rd against Akron and instead of laying down the red carpet after five games for Pryor, that QB will have no superstar to hand the keys of the offense back over to. Luke Fickell's future in Columbus may depend on who finally wins this QB competition, which may be the most important positional battle in all of college football in 2011. And, with no bowl ban forthcoming and a streak of six straight Big Ten championships and six straight BCS appearances to keep alive, the pressure on Ohio State's new signal caller will be immense. Here's the contenders and their chances of winning the job...
1) Joe Bauserman, Senior
-Bauserman is your prototypical "Tressel Ball" candidate* that follows in the distinguished footsteps of Craig Krenzel and Todd Boeckman. Krenzel won a national championship and Boeckman led the Buckeyes to a title game appearance, so maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, I've seen Bauserman play enough football to know that he makes Boeckman look like Brady and Krenzel look like Manning. His career numbers at Ohio State...
25/47, 320 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT.
* I personally never got that stigma, did you watch this offense with Troy Smith, Ginn and Gonzalez when they averaged over 35 PPG in 2006? What about Pryor's breakout game in the Rose Bowl? Or the continued destruction of Michigan... ok, even my D3 alma mater could hang 40 on Michigan. Tressel was always willing to adapt and open up his offensive gameplan to suit his talent, but never broke the stereotype of winning a national title with his QB going 7/21 with 2 INTs and running designed single wing QB draws against Miami.
Bauserman saw meaningful game action in one game last year - at Illinois when Terrelle Pryor briefly left the game due to injury. The Buckeyes were up 14-10 in the 3rd Quarter when Bauserman entered. That day, his numbers were 1/2, 1 yard passing, 1 INT. He's the most experienced candidate and the leader in the clubhouse... but those are the only things keeping Bauserman in this QB race. He may be able to manage the game for Luke Fickell, but the running game is far from a certain fallback without Boom Herron for the first half of the season and a new look offensive line. Bauserman is the safe, steady, game-managing choice, but a choice that may lead to an 8-4 season and Urban Meyer's grand parade down Lane Avenue.
Chances of winning the starting job: 50%
2) Braxton Miller, Freshman
-At the opposite end of the spectrum in every way is the highest touted Ohio State recruit since... well, let's not go there. The **** Wayne High School recruit was Rivals' #1 QB and follows in the dual-threat mode of his predecessor. Miller impressed in Ohio State's spring game, leading the offense on a long touchdown drive and throwing for another in his time at quarterback. He isn't the physically imposing presence that Pryor was, but he also lacks the propensity to bounce 8 yard slant routes in the dirt. Ohio State isn't usually in the business of throwing a true freshman QB into the fire (although Pryor ultimately won the starting job from Boeckman in a very similar scenario to this season), but they may have no other choice. Miller is the most talented of this group by far and will likely be starting or getting a great deal of minutes by season's end regardless. Why not let him get his preseason snaps and seasoning in against the MAC?
Chances of winning the starting job: 40%
3) Kenny Guiton, Sophomore
-Stuck firmly in-between Bauserman and Miller is another dual-threat QB, Kenny Guiton. Guiton played in mop up duty for Bauserman, and currently has 5 more passing yards than Mark May did in his college career. The problem Guiton faces in the QB derby is that he isn't as good of a short-term solution as Bauserman or as good of a long-term solution as Miller. The only way Guiton wins the starting job is if Fickell decides Bauserman can't make enough plays to win games AND Miller isn't ready to start from day one. In that regard, Guiton is an interesting stop-gap solution to get through the early weeks of the season before tagging out for Miller. Otherwise, Guiton will see the field sparingly once again.
Chances of winning the starting job: 10%
4) Taylor Graham, Freshman
-About the only thing Graham has going for him is his bloodlines - his dad Kent played at Ohio State and wandered around the NFL for a decade. As a QB, Graham resembles the pro style, pocket passing mold. He is well behind the other three competitors in this quarterback race though. His chances of winning the starting job on opening day are slim and none. Jim Tressel has a better chance of taking his sweater vest under center than Graham does against Akron.
Chances of winning the starting job: <1%
This is Luke Fickell's most important decision as a head coach not only for his 2011 season, but for his coaching future as well. In all honesty, the decision realistically comes down to the experienced 5th year senior Bauserman vs the electric true freshman Miller. We'll learn a lot about Luke Fickell, head coach of THE Ohio State University with this one depth chart move. If he's coaching to not lose the Ohio State job, it'll be Bauserman. If he is coaching to win the Ohio State job, Miller should start from day one. Regardless, it will be the decision that defines Luke Fickell's tenure as the leader of Buckeye Nation.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.