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Ohio State overcomes injuries to reach Big Ten title game

There’s hardly a program in the country that can boast a Heisman contender; even fewer — actually, maybe only one — that can say it has lost two.

The latter would be the most shocking about Ohio State in 2014 if it weren’t for the fact that the Buckeyes find themselves in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship with an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff.

But win or lose Saturday, consider the losses Ohio State has sustained and it still stands as the hallmark for success in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes lost a preseason Heisman favorite before its first game when their senior quarterback, Braxton Miller, suffered a shoulder injury that needed surgery. His replacement, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, vaulted himself into the Heisman conversation by throwing the ball better than Miller and running it just as effectively.

He led the Buckeyes to an 11-win regular season and it was in that 11th game, a victory over rival Michigan, that Barrett fractured his right ankle. So sophomore Cardale Jones will get the start in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin.

“This is a tough-ass game,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “Every program teaches that but it’s interesting when you actually see that come to fruition.”

Injuries aren’t part of winning. For Ohio State, they just aren’t a part of losing, either.

The Buckeyes’ injuries have been publicized more this season.

But the Meyer-lead Buckeyes have dealt with other injuries that would have been nearly as devastating to any other program. In its first Big Ten game last season, a home win over Wisconsin, Ohio State lost senior safety and three-year starter Christian Bryant.

After losing one of its best defensive players — its leader, no less — Ohio State managed an undefeated 2013 season. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship that year, within a yard of converting a fourth down that would have provided them with, at least, a game-tying field goal try late in the final quarter.

A win in the 2013 Big Ten Championship would have put the then second-ranked Buckeyes in the national championship.

What does all this add up to? Well, there isn’t a program in the Big Ten that’s more successful. And given their circumstances, no Big Ten team should aim to be anything other than the program Meyer has overseen at Ohio State.

Meyer deserves to be considered among the best recruiters in the country. That’s for sure. He’s equally as adept at identifying coaching talent, though.

Asked about how he created a culture within his program that allows the team to sustain success even as it loses players, Meyer deferred to his assistants — a collection of some of the nation’s best.

One of them, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Tom Herman, is getting recognized as such. He is one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant.

“Obviously it starts with the personnel and I think our quarterback coach did an excellent job, Tom Herman, getting the guy ready,” Meyer said. “Our offensive system is pretty much quarterback friendly as far as what we ask them to do and we try to be as clean as we can. We don’t try to put quarterbacks in conflicting situations.”

So on Saturday, Ohio State will be down to its third-string quarterback in Jones. Just don’t expect him to play like one.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen