Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to return this week from a sprained left knee.
COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s players say they are all set: Bring on the Big Ten.
"We know when the lights shine bright and we need to step up, we do," quarterback Kenny Guiton said. "We're ready."
So what is the point of Saturday’s snoozer against Florida A&M — a noon start in which ticket sellers are unloading seats for well under the $79 face value?
"That's where you come out and sharpen up your tools," Guiton said. "We want to be perfect."
In that sense, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes (3-0) have a lot to gain in their nonconference finale against the 57-point underdog Rattlers — including more tools.
OSU could welcome back two of its most important pieces, with quarterback Braxton Miller expected to return from a sprained left knee and running back Carlos Hyde having served out a three-game suspension.
Though Guiton snared national player-of-the-week honors for his smashing debut start at California, Miller’s health remains a glaring question as the Buckeyes move toward next weekend’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin. Meyer labeled the junior star "probable" with a Grade 1 MCL strain, saying he will closely watch Miller’s ability to move laterally in practice this week.
"Straight ahead, he can go right now," Meyer said.
He added: "I’d say there’s a pretty good chance he plays. I don’t want to give a percentage."
Make no mistake, either. A healthy Miller is the starter. Meyer said Guiton has "earned some time" in an undefined role, but made clear the fifth-year senior backup’s success would not sway his timetable for Miller. Even against an overmatched opponent, he does not want Miller to miss a second straight game.
"With Braxton, we’ve got a lot of work to do," Meyer said. "So, no, if he’s ready, he’ll play."
Hyde’s status, meanwhile, is more certain. It is his how the senior back will be used that remains hazy.
OBJECTIdeally, OSU hoped Hyde, who was suspended for a confrontation at a downtown Columbus bar, would return as the starter and Jordan Hall would shift back to the hybrid position slated for him before the season. Hyde ran for 970 yards and 17 TDs as a junior and was expected to be among the nation’s top backs this fall.
"[Hyde] has had a very good attitude and has taken care of his business in the classroom," Meyer said. "We’re anxious to get Carlos back."
Yet it may not be so simple as Hyde immediately coming back as the workhorse starter. Hall, too, has proven a capable tailback, rushing for 402 yards and six touchdowns through three games.
"It's a good issue to have," Meyer said. "That [suspension] was hard on everybody. It was hard on Carlos most of all, but it was hard on all of us, too, because Carlos did a lot of good things, and that whole situation, I don't know. ... But Jordan Hall certainly has earned the right to touch the ball in a big way, so I'm not sure yet."
Hyde, for his part, is ready. Though not available to reporters, he wrote on Twitter: "I feel bad for famu lol. #Victim."
Will the rest of the Buckeyes be just as eager? If Florida A&M (1-2) wasn’t a low-end FCS team, a game sandwiched between the win at Cal and next week’s primetime home date against the Badgers would be a classic trap.
Players know the drill and said all the right lines Monday.
"That’s the reason we play the game," junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "Anyone can win."
Meyer, though, knows these mismatches are not always as easy as they look. Ohio State’s week of preparation will include reminders of past David-slays-Goliath examples and picking at its own flaws. The biggest focus will be tightening a defense that ceded 503 yards, and according to Meyer, missed 16 tackles against Cal.
"[The opponent] does make a difference," Meyer said. "I could give you some coach-speak up here, but it does make a difference. So we are going to have to really coach them hard this week. ... You see it all the time. There's going to be [an upset] every year, maybe two. It can't be this one this week."
EXTRA POINTS: OSU coaches and the Big Ten didn’t agree on the Buckeyes’ best defensive player in their win at Cal. Shazier captured the league’s top defensive honors, while freshman defensive end Joey Bosa was named OSU’s defensive player of the week. Shazier led the Buckeyes with 12 stops, a sack, and a forced fumble. Bosa, starting in place of Adolphus Washington (strained groin), played more than 70 snaps and had 5½ tackles — including four for a loss. ... Meyer said Washington is "questionable" to return this week.