Taking field will be release, relief

Bill Rabinowitz

This is not the most anticipated season opener at Ohio State, but it might be the most welcomed.

August is over, mercifully. The saga of Zach Smith and Urban Meyer isn’t finished, not with Meyer serving the first of a three-game suspension Saturday. But the game against Oregon State allows the Buckeyes to turn the page, or at least give reason for their fans to do so.

“Us being a man down, not having him here,” senior receiver Parris Campbell said, referring to Meyer, “guys are missing him. But guys are excited to show what we have.”

Oregon State looks to be an ideal opponent for the Buckeyes to get off to a good start. The Beavers are one of the weakest power-5 programs in the country. They were 1-11 last year, defeating only FCS school Portland State.

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Oregon State has a new coach, former Washington Huskies co-offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, so it’s a team in transition. The Beavers are 38-point underdogs.

Ohio State’s players were in a proverbial bubble throughout training camp as the program didn’t permit interviews while the Meyer investigation proceeded. So they haven’t been drilled with questions about Oregon State looking overmatched.

“That’s the first time I’m hearing they were 1-11,” safety Jordan Fuller said on Tuesday when Buckeyes captains were finally made available. “That’s not going to enter our minds at all. We’re just competing against ourselves every day, and on Saturday we’ll handle our business.”

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Ohio State returns 10 of 22 starters from last year’s team that won the Big Ten and defeated Southern California in the Cotton Bowl. But several players who will become starters saw playing time last season.

The headliner among them is quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. The redshirt sophomore rallied the Buckeyes to a victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, and there’s almost unbridled anticipation about what his big arm might mean for the offense. As much as the Buckeyes respected and appreciated J.T. Barrett, they are excited about having a quarterback who can make every type of throw.

“I thought it was a really good camp (for Haskins),” receiver Johnnie Dixon said. “You could see him mature. He makes some of those throws that are just crazy. One day he threw a pass to Austin (Mack). He was looking this way and threw it that way. He has the talent. He’s just ready to unleash it Sept. 1.”

Haskins’ task should be made easier by having an abundance of talent surrounding him. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have each been 1,000-yard rushers. All of the Buckeyes’ top receivers return, and the offensive line should be formidable, even as some of the linemen like center Michael Jordan adjust to new roles.

On defense, Nick Bosa leads a line that is expected to dominate despite losing three defensive ends to the NFL. Ohio State is expected to break in three new linebackers — Baron Browning, Pete Werner and Malik Harrison — as it awaits the return of middle linebacker Tuf Borland from an Achilles injury.

Even with the loss of No. 4 overall NFL draft pick Denzel Ward, the Buckeyes are confident in their cornerback rotation with Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield and Jeffrey Okudah. Isaiah Pryor or Jahsen Wint will line up alongside Fuller at safety.

In charge of everything for the time being is acting head coach Ryan Day, who has never been more than a coordinator. He acknowledged this week that at times his new responsibility has been like drinking from a firehose. But by all accounts, he has adjusted well to his new role.

Because of the controversy surrounding Meyer, some have lowered expectations for the Buckeyes. They were ranked No. 3 in the coaches poll before Meyer was placed on administrative leave and No. 5 in the Associated Press media poll after it.

But the Buckeyes’ culture is built on a premise of overcoming adversity.

“If we are an average team, the adversity will crush us,” Day said. “If we're a good team, then we can survive it. But if we're a great team, then we can actually get better from it. And I can sit here and tell you over the past few weeks, (our) team has gotten stronger.”

The first chance to show it has arrived.


Next game

Oregon State at Ohio State

When: Noon Saturday

TV: ABC (Channel 6)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)