Ohio State coach Urban Meyer ran down the list of positions he feels good about going into the season opener Saturday, and he was able to give an upbeat report on each group except linebacker because of some depth issues there.
That across-the-board talent is why oddsmakers have made the Buckeyes 36-point favorites over Buffalo, a team picked to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
But the nation’s second-ranked team will be counting on several freshmen from the start — running back Ezekiel Elliott, hybrid back Dontre Wilson, defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Mike Hill, linebacker Mike Mitchell and punter Cameron Johnston, among others — and Meyer’s experience tells him you never know what to expect from first-year players in their college debuts.
“I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out of that tunnel, especially at a place like Ohio Stadium,” Meyer said Monday at his first media luncheon of the season. “There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken, and you just can’t create that animal until you get that opportunity.
“I’m anxious, but I’ve been there a few times. I want to see how Dontre — he’s going to return the opening kickoff of the 2013 Ohio State football team. The thing I like about Dontre is he doesn’t seem fazed, but he hasn’t done that yet.”
Meyer paused and added with a smile, “If you see me jog someone else out there, you know we are having a little hyperventilating issue.”
The Buckeyes seemed to have a team-wide case of the jitters in their first game last season, falling behind Miami, 7-0, after one quarter before storming to a 56-10 victory.
Even with the lopsided outcome, Meyer wasn’t happy.
“It was 7-0 after the first quarter, and it should have been worse. It could have been worse,” he said, recalling a dropped touchdown pass in the end zone by the RedHawks.
“We were 12-0 last year and some really great things happened — some incredible leadership and motivation, and we were a team that got really, really close, which is probably more important than anything. Not probably — it is.
“But the second most important thing is just blocking, tackling, great football position and all the great things we work so hard at. I mean, work — we start in January on that. That’s a big part of the chase (for success).
“I’m hoping we leave the field Saturday, obviously, with a win, but you want to feel good about the fundamentals of your football team. If you do that, that’s a real positive, and we didn’t feel that way last year. It took us a while.”
The Buckeyes have talked all preseason about their comfort level in Meyer’s system going into year two. And the coach has seen marked improvement, raving not only about quarterback Braxton Miller, but also the playmakers around him.
After leading his team and finishing fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (1,271 yards), Miller is expected to have much more help in veteran receivers Corey “Philly” Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields along with running back Jordan Hall, who will take the first handoffs of the season with starter Carlos Hyde (three-game suspension) and back-up Rod Smith (one game) having to watch the opener in street clothes.
Miller may have been the Big Ten offensive player of the year, but Meyer wants him to be more of a facilitator this season.
“He was by far our best player last year. And when I say by far, it wasn’t even the same hemisphere as far as who the next player was that could make a play to help us win,” Meyer said.
“But I’m very comfortable with Philly Brown. Evan Spencer has had a tremendous camp. Jordan Hall looks better than he ever has. We have two tight ends (Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett) that I can’t wait to get involved.
“If Braxton is leading (the team in rushing) — I don’t see that happening this year. If it does, that means something’s not going well.”
2015 commitment: Ohio State picked up its first commitment in the 2015 class last weekend in Canton McKinley’s Eric Glover-Williams. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior is considered a future slot receiver or cornerback for the Buckeyes.
He’s rated as the No. 1 prospect in Ohio by Bucknuts.com and a four-star prospect overall. He had offers from Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Michigan State.
Who: Ohio State vs. Buffalo
Where: Ohio Stadium
When: noon, Saturday
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WING-AM (1410)