COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scandal swirled around the Ohio State program for the entirely of preseason training camp. Now that it's time to play the games, will the absence of suspended coach Urban Meyer be a rallying point for Buckeyes players? Or will Oregon State catch them out of sorts?
Ohio State might miss a step or two early, but don't expect too much drama in the season opener Saturday. The No. 5 Buckeyes should have their way with the beleaguered Beavers, who are 38-point underdogs and coming to Ohio Stadium to play in front of an amped-up, football-starved crowd.
Ohio State players say Meyer's issues haven't been an overwhelming distraction, but given the twists and turns of the saga and accompanying social-media noise, there are some roiled feelings perhaps used as motivation for players who weren't directly involved.
"I think we are very angry," senior receiver Parris Campbell said this week. "Just with all of the adversity that we have gone through, everything that has happened in the past, you know, us not having our head coach, us being a man down, I think there are a lot of variables going into it."
Meyer was put on paid leave on Aug. 1 , two days before preseason camp opened. After a two-week investigation, the superstar coach was suspended for the first three games for his handling of now-fired assistant coach Zach Smith, who was accused of domestic violence and other problematic behavior. Athletic director Gene Smith was suspended without pay for two weeks for his role.
Meyer took to Twitter on Friday to again justify his stance, saying he didn't lie to reporters and wasn't suspended because he knew about or condoned his assistant coach's alleged domestic abuse — claims that don't fully square with details laid out in the investigation's report. Quoting passages from the report, Meyer said his fault "was in not taking action sooner against a troubled employee about his work-related issues."
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is running the show in the meantime.
Here are some things to watch for in Saturday's game:
BUSINESS AS USUAL?
One guy who doesn't think Meyer's absence will make a difference is first-year Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith .
"Being a head coach now, I trust in so much that goes on outside of my door, with the assistant coaches and the players," he said. "I'm sure it's similar over there. I just don't see it much different without him being there."
Ohio State might be as good as ever, he said.
"It's just tough to find to find some weaknesses," he said. "They've got a stockpile of athletes, playmakers at running back and receiver. There's not a flaw that I've been able to see in six, seven months of (watching) tape."
SPOTLIGHT ON QUARTERBACKS
The first career start of Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. is much anticipated. He's last year's backup who came in when starter J.T. Barrett got hurt and won the Michigan game . That alone was enough to cement his place in Ohio State lore.
Now Haskins, a pro-style quarterback with a rifle arm, is the No. 1 guy, and the Buckeyes' talented group of receivers can't wait.
On the Oregon State side, 6-foot-7 junior-college transfer Jake Luton is back after making it just four games as starter last season before suffering a thoracic spine fracture.
JORDAN AT CENTER
Not only did Ohio State have to replace a record-breaking quarterback in Barrett, it had to find somebody to fill the spot of center Billy Price, now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The answer was just a few feet away: Michael Jordan, a two-year starter at left guard who will slide over to the center position.
"It was just one of those things where you just try to find the right mix and the right guy for the right spot, and Mike kind of took it and ran this preseason," Day said.
Noag Togiai, possibly Oregon State's best offensive player, is out for at least a month with a knee injury. The Beavers also will be without CB Jay Irvine (shoulder), S David Morris (foot), RB Calvin Tyler Jr. (knee) and DE Jeromy Reichner (foot).
Ohio State LB Tuf Borland, rehabbing from a leg injury suffered in the spring, won't start but likely will play.