COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A week ago, no one was even certain Braxton Miller was healthy enough to play in a game.
Now, he thinks he's still in the Heisman Trophy race.
No. 4 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 16 Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) , 8 p.m. (ABC)Line: Ohio State by 7.
Series record: Ohio State leads, 59-14-1.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
With 17 straight wins, Ohio State is trying to keep the longest active streak in the nation going and strengthen its position in the national championship race. The Buckeyes are coming off a 31-24 win over Wisconsin. Northwestern is looking to prove it can beat the best in the Big Ten, the next step for a program that's established itself as a consistent winner.
Northwestern's receivers against safeties Corey Brown, Tyvis Powell or Vonn Bell. All three were being evaluated this week as potential replacements for Christian Bryant, the defensive leader who broke his left ankle late in the Wisconsin game and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ohio State: QB Braxton Miller: Matched a career-high with four touchdown passes last week after missing the previous two games with a sprained left knee. He's Ohio State's all-time leading rusher among QBs with 2,151 yards.
Northwestern: RB Venric Mark. After missing three games with a lower body injury, Mark is expected back. He ran for 1,366 yards and 12 TDs and was a major contributor returning punts and kickoffs last season.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Both teams are scoring plenty of points, with Ohio State sixth in the nation at 48.2 per game and Northwestern averaging 41.2. ... The Buckeyes have won four straight and 28 of 29 against Northwestern. The most recent win for the Wildcats was on Oct. 2, 2004. ... Coach Urban Meyer last faced Northwestern in 2001 when he was in his first season at Bowling Green, a 43-42 win for the Falcons in Evanston, Ill. ... Ohio State has pounded teams 116-21 in the first quarter but has been outscored 17-10 in the fourth. ... The Buckeyes are averaging 501.2 yards on offense while giving up 304 per game. ... Northwestern's last win over team ranked fourth or higher came against No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1959 season opener. The Wildcats took out No. 5 Iowa a week later and haven't beaten a Top-five team since ... The last time Northwestern hosted an opponent ranked this high was when No. 1 Ohio State visited in 2006.
-- Associated Press
"The way we keep playing as a team, as a whole, I feel like there's all type of awards guys can get," the junior quarterback said after Wednesday night's practice. "So if (the Heisman) comes upon (me), I'm really grateful for what it is. But I'm just going to keep playing my game, me and the guys. Hopefully I'll be looking forward to it after the season."
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has the nation's longest winning streak at 17 in a row.
Miller missed more than half of the Buckeyes' season with a sprained knee ligament sustained in the opening minutes of a Week 2 win over San Diego State.
He didn't play in the victories at California and back home against Florida A&M while backup Kenny Guiton racked up huge numbers. Guiton had a school-record six touchdown passes, all in the first half, of a 76-0 rout of overmatched FAMU.
It wasn't until last Thursday that Miller was tapped as the starting quarterback two days later against Wisconsin. Coach Urban Meyer was looking for the shiftiness and change-of-direction that is Miller's hallmark. When Meyer saw that, he stamped Miller as the starter.
Miller then played as if he had never left, tossing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 victory.
"I didn't miss a beat," he said.
He even threw a crunching block when an Ohio State running back changed direction.
"He was chirping about that all day," Meyer said with a chuckle. "He did a good job. That was a great block."
Miller had crumpled to the ground in pain on Sept. 7 after being sandwiched between two San Diego State tacklers. Before he was carted off the field, a doctor manipulated his knee and he cried out in pain.
Needless to say, there were a lot of concerns about the three-year starter.
"I was certainly worried," quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I don't know that (the injury set him back). Maybe a little bit mentally just seeing the game over and over again and seeing coverages live and all those things. From a physical standpoint, it didn't and from a preparation standpoint, it didn't, but there's only so much you can do in drills and in the film room. (Facing) live bullets is necessary to gain that experience."
Herman and Meyer both said Miller made a couple of throws against Wisconsin that he wouldn't have even attempted earlier in his career.
Miller might actually benefit later on from having been hit less so far this season. But that didn't mean his return was a breeze.
"Man, after the game I was really sore," he said. "I just feel comfortable where I'm at. Coming back after the knee injury, I felt pretty comfortable just going out with the guys. It's just a blessing."
Another concern was that there might be a split allegiance among the Buckeyes, between Miller and Guiton. Guiton is a popular, gregarious member of the team, while Miller is quieter, more subdued and less demonstrative.
But everyone recognizes Miller's special talents.
"Braxton's our guy. At the end of the day, he's the starter," said receiver Corey Brown, who had two touchdown catches from Miller against Wisconsin. "No one was really too concerned about that because Kenny's done a heck of a job in the games he's played this year. Whatever quarterback went out on the field with us, we were confident with."
Now Miller leads the Buckeyes against another ranked team, No. 16 Northwestern. Just like last week, it's in prime time on Saturday night, only this time it's a road game.
"(Our fans) always kind of take over the stadium," he said. "Our fans travel wherever we go. It feels good. So a different environment, but it's always a great feeling."