How huge of an impact will the loss of senior quarterback Braxton Miller have on the fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes' 2014 campaign?
Well, just about a month prior to Miller being sidelined for the season after re-injuring his right shoulder in practice — originally sustained in last January's Orange Bowl loss to Clemson — the Buckeyes were tabbed as preseason favorites in the conference, taking a league-best 19 first place votes by the Big Ten football media.
After a re-vote on Monday, the Buckeyes claimed just one first-place vote, while the defending Big Ten champions, Michigan State, took 22 this time around.
I don't know which tells more of the story of Miller's impact to the Buckeyes' chances ... the fact that they lost 18 votes, or that they conducted a re-do poll in the first place.
"This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said Monday about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.
So with Miller out for the season — and their opener set for this Saturday (1 p.m.) in Baltimore against Navy — all eyes now focus on his replacement, red-shirt freshman J.T. Barrett.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound native of Texas, has drawn comparisons from Meyer to Miller's former replacement, Kenny Guiton, who came in last season to lead the Buckeyes to three early season wins in Heisman-like fashion (14 TDs, 2 Ints).
"He's Guiton-ish," Meyer said of Barrett. "He's a calm guy... very business like about his approach. He's not someone you have to watch to see if their demeanor changed because it's the same as it was two weeks ago.
"We all know what's coming down the barrel at him, but he's handled it very well."
Unlike Guiton, who had been in Columbus for five seasons, Barrett has never taken a collegiate snap. With the expectation of a No. 5 ranking, while having to replace a man who's generated more than 8,300 yards and 84 touchdowns during his career in Columbus, the task for Barrett may be simply too much, even to a "Guiton-ish" talent.
While the Buckeyes possess a lot of unknown under center, their opponent on Saturday does not.
Midshipmen junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds is as electrifying a signal caller as any in the nation. At 5-feet-11, 195 pounds, Reynolds dissects opposing defenses with his feet, leading the nation in rushing touchdowns last season with 31, while compiling 1,346 yards on the ground (second among FBS QBs).
"I'm a big fan of his," Meyer said of Reynolds. "The Navy coaches and some people I've talked to think that he's the best they've ever had, which takes your breath away a little bit."
In ten seasons of covering the Buckeyes, I have never gone into a season opener with so much uncertainty.
While Meyer believes that the Buckeyes can be "a good team," I have my reservations. Miller has been such a force for the Buckeyes in recent years that they've been left to rely on him a little too much. He is truly the heart and soul of the Buckeyes.
I don't believe any freshman can fill such shoes.
While I don't see — at least at this time — the Buckeyes being a legitimate top 10 team, I do think think they have enough talent to hold off the Midshipmen on the road.
The Buckeyes will rely on the legs of their stacked backfield to ground-and-pound their way to 1-0.
Lee's Prediction: OSU 27-20