Since Ohio State football’s media day on Aug. 20, the coaches and players echoed the same talking point about the season to come: The Buckeyes’ expectations haven’t changed.
With OSU set to host Michigan State in its first Big Ten game since a tumultuous offseason and a rocky start to the regular season, Buckeye Nation may soon learn if the team is capable of fulfilling those lexpectations.
The first four weeks of OSU’s season produced three wins, one loss to Miami and uncertainty heading into conference play.
Whether the team is ready or not, Big Ten play has arrived.
The Buckeyes open conference play on Saturday when they host defending co-Big Ten champion Michigan State.
There’s no break after the battle with the Spartans, either.
In the three weeks to follow, OSU will play at Nebraska and Illinois before returning to Ohio Stadium to play Wisconsin — those three teams are currently ranked No. 8, No. 22 and No. 7 in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll, respectively.
It’s a tough road to hoe, but OSU coaches and players are confident.
“I think we’re definitely ready for conference play,” said junior defensive lineman John Simon. “We got a tough schedule coming up and those early games prepared us. I think we’re ready and we’ll be ready (against MSU).”
Simon had a sack and a quarterback hurry in the closing minutes OSU’s 27-22 win against Toledo.
Since the narrow victory against the Rockets, the Buckeyes’ offense sputtered in a 24-6 loss against Miami (Fla.) before bouncing back with a 37-17 win against Colorado.
Freshman Braxton Miller replaced redshirt senior Joe Bauserman as the starting quarterback against the Buffaloes.
Despite swapping starters at quarterback, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman says the team’s offense is more clearly defined as the team heads for conference play.
“I think we all have a pretty good feel for where we’re headed,” Bollman said. “Everyone’s got to keep getting better and we’ve got to keep improving. It’s not a ‘status quo’ operation.”
Junior running back and kick returner Jordan Hall has amassed 354 yards and one touchdown since returning from a two-game suspension.
Hall echoed the confidence expressed by several of his teammates, saying that he felt the team is prepared for the Big Ten.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Hall said. “We run the ball good. I think you can always get better, so I think we’re just going to keep working and do it on the field on Saturday.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jack Mewhort will be helping open holes in opposing defenses for Hall. Like so many of the Buckeyes, Mewhort said the team is ready for Big Ten play.
“I know (first-year OSU coach Luke Fickell) will have us ready,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a rough road because the Big Ten is a tough conference but we’re up for that.”
Bollman described the team’s readiness for Big Ten play in brief terms when he said, “Here we go.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game at the ‘Shoe against the Spartans is set for 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised regionally by ABC.