One of the in-the-background story lines for Ohio State this season has been the status of quarterback Braxton Miller for next season.
Miller was seen as a potential Heisman contender going into the season, but he suffered a shoulder injury in August that knocked him out for the season. The presumption all along has been that Miller would return for a fifth season next fall.
Miller's return was brought up during Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer's weekly Monday news conference. Meyer has been saying all along that Miller would return with the same status he had held when he was hurt -- i.e., the starter. But that changed Monday.
"Competition brings out the best, and I'm really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year, if that's the plan," he told reporters.
As a follow-up, he was asked if he found it "crazy" to go from one productive quarterback to another.
"I don't use the term 'crazy.' I think fortunate and blessed are two things because a lot of people would want either one of them," Meyer responded. "Because I think they're both excellent quarterbacks, excellent quarterbacks, and we'll worry about that day when it comes."
Barrett has performed beyond expectations and is coming off a masterful performance Saturday in a 49-37 victory at Michigan State. Barrett accounted for at least five touchdowns in a game for the fourth time Saturday, and his 386 total yards was his second-highest total of the season, behind only the 409 he piled up against a bad Cincinnati defense. Barrett threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns; it was his third 300-yard game of the season and the fifth time he threw at least three TD passes. He has 26 TD passes this season, which is tied for fifth nationally; the school's single-season record is 30, by Troy Smith in 2006.
Miller's season-highs in yardage and touchdowns came last season, when he threw for 2,094 yards and 24 scores in 12 games (he missed two games completely and most of another with an injury). Barrett has surpassed both those totals (he has thrown for 2,156 yards) in nine games.
Miller was the Big Ten's player of the year in 2012 and '13, and Barrett has become a leading contender -- with tailbacks Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska -- for the award this season. Regardless of whether Barrett is honored this season, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to imagine a Buckeyes team with both Barrett and Miller next season because it is becoming increasingly more difficult to think that Barrett would be fine with being a backup. While Miller is an excellent athlete and a better runner than Barrett, he is not seen as an NFL-ready quarterback. Might he go pro anyway? Could he return to Ohio State -- but at a different position? Suddenly, Miller is more than an in-the-background story line now.