CHICAGO — When Urban Meyer arrived in Chicago for Big Ten media days on Thursday morning, it was supposed to be for a celebration of Ohio State's 2014 national title and to preview the Buckeyes' upcoming 2015 campaign.
Instead, the Ohio State head coach will find himself facing questions about the suspension of four of his players for the season opener, a group that includes All-American defensive end Joey Bosa.
And with what could be one of the Buckeyes' toughest games of the year, those suspensions could prove costly.
When Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch initially reported that Bosa and H-back Jalin Marshall would each be missing Ohio State's opener with Virginia Tech because of a "violation of athletic department policy," the suspensions seemed significant but likely not enough to cost the Buckeyes in their showdown with the Hokies. After all, Ohio State is loaded at defensive end and wide receiver, especially with Braxton Miller's recently announced transition to wideout.
But when the OSU athletic department announced moments later that wide receivers Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson would be joining Bosa and Marshall on the sideline for the season opener, the threat of the Buckeyes being upended in the first game of their national title defense became all the more realistic.
For as stacked as Ohio State is at nearly each position on both sides of the ball, it was just a year ago that Virginia Tech handed the Buckeyes their lone defeat of the 2014 campaign. Playing underneath the lights of Ohio Stadium in the second week of the season, the Hokies flustered quarterback J.T. Barrett, as the Ohio State receivers struggled to make plays on a consistent basis against Virginia Tech's Cover 0 defense.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott (32 yards and one touchdown on eight carries) also found himself bottled up by the Hokies defense in a game that Meyer admitted to being outcoached by Frank Beamer and his staff.
"First time I've seen that," Meyer said of Virginia Tech's defensive scheme, which essentially sold out to the Buckeyes running attack and dared Barrett to pass it downfield in what was a 35-21 Hokies victory.
"It was completely hours upon hours of game-planning, including in the spring we started looking at Virginia Tech, and they just completely played bear zero, which was a high‑risk defense, but obviously it worked."
And while it remains to be seen whether Virginia Tech will try to attack the Buckeyes in a similar fashion in their rematch on Sept. 7, Ohio State missing three of its top four returning receivers from a season ago in Marshall, Wilson and Smith certainly doesn't bode well.
Especially if Beamer again decides to load the box against Elliott, pressuring Ohio State's quarterback—whoever it will be—to make a play with his arm. Barrett progressed from that start into the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, and Cardale Jones has arguably the strongest arm in college football, but both signal-callers can only do so much without—for at least one game—three of the team's most important playmakers.
That's not to say Barrett or Jones won't have weapons to play with in the passing game, as wide receiver Michael Thomas (54 receptions, 799 yards, nine touchdowns in 2014) returns as the Buckeyes' top wideout. Sophomores Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel were two of Ohio State's top breakout players in spring practice, and freshmen Johnnie Dixon and K.J. Hill each possess plenty of promise.
And then of course there's Miller, who's intriguing but ultimately unproven at this point when it comes to playing a position other than quarterback.
But under the bright lights of Lane Stadium—in a prime-time game on a Monday night no less—that potential may have to manifest itself even more than originally thought. Smith and Wilson have each been plagued by inconsistencies throughout their respective college careers, but Marshall was a key cog in the Buckeyes' national title run and is one of the players being counted on to replace Devin Smith as a downfield threat in the Ohio State passing game.
As for Bosa, Ohio State's defense should have enough to survive, especially with the versatility of defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and spring emergences of ends Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard. But the Buckeyes will also obviously miss having a player in their lineup who accounted for 13.5 sacks a season ago and is also considered one of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL draft.
Whether Bosa's suspension will impact his standing as such will also remain to be seen.
But for now, Ohio State's focus remains on Virginia Tech and how it will now survive arguably its toughest test of the season until Michigan State comes to Columbus on Nov. 21. Meyer will be forced to answer that—and much more—during his various media appearances on Thursday afternoon, as the Buckeyes' suspensions, which ESPN.com's Joe Schad reported were for marijuana and academics, have now cast a cloud over what was supposed to be a day filled with positive public relations for the defending national champs.
Far from a rookie when it comes to this situation, Meyer will undoubtedly have all the right answers.
Words, however, can only do so much. How Meyer answers these suspensions on the field in less than six weeks will be much more intriguing.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.