The Ohio State Buckeyes will look to stay undefeated in the Urban Meyer era on Saturday when the Buffalo Bulls visit Columbus.
Ranked as the No. 2 team in the nation to start the year in both the USA Today coaches poll and AP Top 25 poll, the Buckeyes are expected to contend for the national championship this season after being ineligible to do so in 2012.
As noted by ESPN's Stats & Info, history certainly sides with Meyer's team accomplishing something close to that task:
Did You Know? Previous 3 times Ohio State had a perfect season, they followed it up with 2 or fewer losses & finished in top 5 of AP Poll— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 21, 2013
The first obstacle toward that end game is Buffalo, which finished 4-8 in head coach Jeff Quinn's third season with the MAC program.
Quinn has increased the program win total by one each of the last two seasons after a disastrous start in 2010 (2-10), but needs to continue to trend upward to avoid landing on the hot seat.
Regardless of the outcome, Buffalo will be taking home a nice sum from Ohio State to cover their travel expenses (and more) during Week 1. The AP Top 25 Twitter account had that scoop earlier this month:
Although the Buckeyes are expected to dominate the Bulls on Saturday, nothing is ever taken for granted in college football. In preparation for one of the games that will get the new college football season going, check out our preview as Buffalo prepares to tangle with Ohio State.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, at Noon ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Spread: Ohio State (-34.5), according to Covers.com
Injury Report (via USA Today)
OL Trevor Sales - Knee - Probable
WR Fred Lee - Ankle - Probable
OL Dillon Guy - Foot - Probable
WR Cordero Dixon - Head - Probable
DB James Chambers - Arm - Probable
FB Boomer Brock - Knee - Doubtful
RB Jordan Johnson - Elbow - Out for Season
LB Curtis Grant - Concussion - Questionable
DL Tommy Schutt - Foot - Out Indefinitely
TE Blake Thomas - Neck - Out for Season
RB Rod Smith - Suspension - Out
CB Adam Griffin - Shoulder - Out for Season
DB Jamie Wood - Shoulder - Out for Season
CB Bradley Roby - Suspension - Out
TE Marcus Baugh - Suspension - Out
RB Carlos Hyde - Suspension - Out
Buffalo Player to Watch: QB Joe Licata
Licata took over for Alex Zordich toward the end of the 2012-13 season, and success quickly followed for the Bulls.
The sophomore QB ripped off three straight wins over Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and Massachusetts in his first three starts of the year; three of Buffalo's four wins in 2012 are connected to Licata as the starter.
As you can see in this tweet from Joey Kaufman of The Columbus Dispatch, Licata put up solid numbers as a freshman when he took over for Zordich:
Licata, a sophomore, became the starter for the final month of last season. Went 3-1, throwing for 806 yards and five TDs.— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) August 27, 2013
Quinn named the New York native his starter coming out of spring practice, and if Buffalo wants to remain competitive against Ohio State throughout the course of the game, Licata needs to shine in his first 2013 start.
As noted by MAC spokesman Ken Mather, the Bulls believe in their young signal-caller:
Quinn said consistency at QB is very important. Our team has rallied around QB Joe Licata. He's an accurate thrower and a leader. #MACtion— Ken Mather (@KenMather_MAC) August 26, 2013
Returning nine starters on offense, Buffalo is actually a fairly experienced team. All of their starters on the post-spring depth chart are either juniors or seniors with the exception of Licata and wideout Marcus McGill.
Top running back Branden Oliver and top receiver Alex Neutz are big time weapons for Buffalo, and Licata will have a solid group of skill players to distribute the ball to against Ohio State.
In true trial by fire fashion, Buffalo will get a chance to see how far their young QB has progressed over the past nine months when he takes the field against Ohio State—easily the most prestigious opponent Licata will have faced to date.
Talk about a tough test.
Ohio State Player to Watch: QB Braxton Miller
Miller is an early-season Heisman candidate, a designation that makes games against non-conference opponents like Buffalo vitally important.
College football players win the Heisman with big plays over big time opponents, but not playing to the level of one's competition is also something those who have hoisted the trophy have avoided.
Expect Miller to have a big game with his arm and his feet on Saturday.
A threat to score via both the read-option or the long pass, Miller blossomed under Meyer in 2012. He threw for 2,039 yards in the air and added another 1,271 on the ground en route to 28 total touchdowns.
Returning starters Corey Brown and Devin Smith give Miller two playmaking targets on the outside, and the QB will be instrumental in establishing the run while setting his offense up for an aerial attack at various points in the game.
For Ohio State to win a national championship, more players will have to step up than just the team's starting QB. In Week 1, though, Miller can set a precedence of success his teammates will follow all year.
Key Matchup: Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Buffalo Front Seven
Even without top running back Carlos Hyde, who was suspended for the first three games of the season, we can expect the Ohio State offense to prioritize running the ball well.
The Buckeyes were 10th in the nation in rushing yards per game last year, recording 242.3 yards a contest in non-conference and Big Ten action.
How many points will Ohio State score on Saturday?
Between Miller, backup-turned-starter Jordan Hall and whomever else Meyer sees fit to run the ball against Buffalo, we can expect the Ohio State offense to lean heavily on the run to set up the pass.
That makes the trenches vitally important for both sides.
If the Buffalo front seven is creating pressure and forcing Ohio State to alter its game plan, the Shoe could be very quiet over the first two quarters. For Buffalo to have any chance of keeping pace with Ohio State through halftime, the front seven must create pressure and disrupt Meyer's offensive scheme.
Ohio State is expected to do big things this year.
Coming off an undefeated season, given big billing for the upcoming campaign and featuring a Heisman candidate on offense, Buckeyes fans everywhere are considering 2013 a BCS title-or-bust season.
Buffalo is the first obstacle to that end game.
The Bulls have a chance to improve under Quinn for the third straight season, but they will be outmatched by the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball and struggle to maintain consistent effort for four quarters.
On Sunday morning, Ohio State will still be undefeated under Meyer.
Ohio State 41, Buffalo 13
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