In terms of opening week powder-puff games that are the commonplace luxury for most highly ranked teams, the Buffalo Bulls may provide a slight amount of extra competition than the average fan might expect. There’s no reason to look for a repeat of Appalachian State dethroning the hated rivals from Ann Arbor, but the Bulls may provide an opportunity to see an extra glimpse of Braxton Miller & co. before they get pulled. A 37th ranked defense and the return of superstar RB Branden Oliver has Buffalo fans thinking about a potential bowl berth. But Buffalo aspirations aside, Ohio State is a monstrous program with a flawless record, 17-0, against teams from the MAC.
Coming into 2013, expectations are sky-high for the Urban Meyer led Buckeyes. After a perfect 12-0 season that flew largely under the radar thanks to “tattoogate”, OSU enters the season ranked as the number two team in the land.
Their opening week opponent also had an unnoticed 2012 season; but they don’t have a scandal to blame. Playing in arguably the weakest FBS conference, the Bulls finished a measly 4-8, third worst in their East Division of the MAC. Their only non-conference win came against a FCS team, Morgan State.
The Buckeye’s offensive line features four returning starters from last years 10th ranked rushing offense (yards per game). That rushing attack will be quite handicapped in the Buffalo clash due to suspensions to OSU’s top two running backs, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith. Smith was hit with a one game suspension due to a violation of team rules in the winter. Hyde was dealt a three game suspension as a result of an assault charge brought against him (since dropped) following a July altercation. His sixteen rushing touchdowns in 2012 ranked T-15th in the NCAA.
Starting in place of Hyde and Smith will be Jordan Hall. Hall averaged 5.5 YPC in his three appearances last year, totaling 218 yards. Hall had been playing some receiver in camp, but will join Braxton Miller in the backfield for at least the Buffalo game.
While Miller will certainly miss Hyde’s presence, his impact shouldn’t suffer greatly against Buffalo. Miller ranked 34th among FBS players last season in total yards (per game) and he should be able to pick apart the Bulls’ defense. His passing yardage, completion percentage, YPA, touchdown total, and passer rating all improved from his freshman to sophomore year. Another year of familiarity with Meyer’s spread offense should see those numbers spike in 2013.
Defensively, the Buckeyes need to make sure they keep an eye on Oliver. Oliver garnered 821 rushing yards last year despite missing five games. He came into the 2012 season with aspirations and predictions of being a candidate for the Doak Walker Award. Those same expectations still exist for the 2013 season and the talent is certainly there as well.
The Buckeye’s front seven, who will have the task of stopping the scat back, are the team’s largest question mark. Ryan Shazier, a superstar in the making, is the only returning starter in the Buckeye front seven. While the rest of the group is inexperienced, there is certainly undeniable talent. Sophomore end Aldophus Washington was ranked as the second best defensive end coming out of high school and he showed a great deal of promise in his freshman year. After a successful senior year in high school in which he had 23.5 sacks, Washington registered three sacks last year in big games against Miami, Illinois, and Michigan. Noah Spence is another player with high expectations from that same recruiting class of 2011. A five-star recruit, Spence shined alongside Washington during the team’s spring game.
The team’s largest star in the secondary, Bradley Roby, has also been suspended for the opening game against Buffalo. Roby was a second team AP All-American after leading all college players with 1.73 passes deflected per game. Roby is suspended for the first game as a result of an altercation at a bar in July. While the charge has been lowered to a simple disorderly conduct, Meyer followed through with the suspension. Roby is not the only member of the secondary that will be banned from the opening game; cornerback Najee Murray is suspended indefinitely stemming from a “training camp issue” according to Meyer. The secondary will still be strong, thanks to veteran leadership at the safety positions from CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant. The cornerback position graduated leader Travis Howard, but their strong depth should help them make up for the departure and suspension.
The biggest factor that should help this transitioning secondary is Buffalo’s uncertainty at quarterback. Last season featured two quarterbacks, Alex Zordich and Joe Licata, who combined to form one of the worst passing offenses in the FBS last season, ranked 98th.
The defense is certainly the team’s largest question mark, not because of their weakness, but rather because the offense is so sound and productive. Coach Meyer didn’t attempt to hide this fact whatsoever, as quoted by Rusty Miller.
“Offensively, I feel very strong about where we could be if we have a solid training camp. Defense is where the issues are.”
A Buckeye victory may not be the most bold of predictions for week one, but it certainly may be one the most likely. Expect a lopsided, offense heavy, resounding win to open the year for the Buckeyes, anything else would be Bull.