COLUMBUS — Ohio State will open the season without at least three key players — including its top two running backs.
Star cornerback Bradley Roby and junior tailback Rod Smith will each be suspended one game, coach Urban Meyer said Saturday, joining starting back Carlos Hyde on the sideline for the opener against Buffalo.
Roby’s punishment stems from his skirmish with a bouncer outside a bar at Bloomington, Ind., last month. Though his misdemeanor charge was reduced this week from battery to disorderly conduct, Meyer said Roby would be suspended even if the case were dismissed. Roby, a junior All-American, reportedly has the chance to participate in a pretrial diversion program that could lead to the charge being dropped.
"He’ll be suspended one game just because there was an issue," Meyer said, "and I’ll make further determination later. I don't think it's done."
Smith, meanwhile, violated an undisclosed team rule in February. With Hyde suspended three games. Smith’s absence will shift senior Jordan Hall into the starting tailback job against Buffalo. Behind Hall, who Meyer would prefer to use more in a hybrid run-catch role, are sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Warren Ball and freshmen Ezekiel Elliot and Dontre Wilson.
Look for Smith to stand in for Hyde upon his return Week 2 against San Diego State.
“If it wasn’t for a mistake, then he’d be maybe starting [the opener],” Meyer said. “He is doing very good and he is going to be a valuable member of this team once he gets back. He's practicing at a very high level. It’s his last call. It’s the 11th hour for Rod Smith. He needs to perform."
ON THE MOVE: How deep is the Buckeyes’ defensive line?
Deep enough, apparently, for coaches to feel confident recasting a pair of once-touted line prospects.
Freshman Billy Price is on the move from defensive tackle to the offensive line, where he will play center and guard, while J.T. Moore is shifting from defensive end to tight end. Moore, a 6-foot-3, 262-pound junior, has played in 17 games — including four as a starter in 2011 — but saw his time limited by the Buckeyes’ recent gush of defensive line recruits.
HOLD THE PARADE: The Buckeyes are No. 2 in the first Associated Press poll, marking their national-best 25th straight appearance in the preseason rankings. But don’t bother asking players about this latest dose of hype.
"Everybody else is talking about that," linebacker Josh Perry said. "We’re not. We want to win Big Ten championships, we want to compete for championships in November. Whatever happens after that happens. People have us ranked No. 2 or whatever, but we can’t be worried about that. We’ve got other goals we have to worry about."
END OF ROAD: Redshirt freshman tight end Blake Thomas’ playing days are over because of what Meyer called an ongoing "neck issue."
He is the third Buckeyes player in a week to see their career likely end, along with junior cornerback Adam Griffin and senior defensive back Jamie Wood, both of whom have struggled through shoulder injuries.