COLUMBUS — It isn't any secret that the Ohio State football team has gone through a little bit of adversity during the off-season.
You know, kind of like how Hurricane Irene dumped "a little bit" of rain on the northeast.
Since defeating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl this past January, the Buckeyes have lost their head coach (Jim Tressel) and star quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) — who were essentially kicked of the team due to violating NCAA bylaws — suspended four starters for the first five games of the 2011 regular season (two other starters for the first game) and vacated all of its wins from last season, including their thrilling bowl victory over the Razorbacks.
The program has been the main focal point of many national media investigations, interrogated thoroughly by the NCAA, and have been ridiculed for everything from not self-imposing a bowl ban to building a mural of Tressel at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
It's pretty safe to say that the 18th-ranked Buckeyes, after all they have endured in recent months, will feel some sense of relief when they finally take the field in Saturday's opener against Akron at Ohio Stadium.
"It's a relief, but it's excitement more than relief," Interim head coach Luke Fickell said. "I'm not the kind of guy where I would say anything is a relief. Is it excitement? I think that's the way I would categorize it. It's exciting for me, I'm sure it's exciting for everyone of our staff members ...
"The 'excitement' I think is the thing. Our players are probably the same way. Whether it's the first game of the year or it's the adversity thing, we're going to look at it as an exciting time."
It may be a really exciting time for the Buckeyes and their fans Saturday, because the team will be facing perhaps the worst squad in the FBS.
The Zips, who finished 1-11 in 2010, have an offense which features a junior college transfer at quarterback, Clayton Moore — who will be making his FBS debut — and a tailback in sophomore Broderick Alexander, who is coming off a season-ending injury.
The Zips' defense returns its leading tackler from last season in middle linebacker Brian Wagner (130 tackles), but lose six starters from a unit that surrendered 35 points per game in 2010. It's difficult to determine whether the Zips have improved from that horrid 2010 campaign.
Fickell said the game against the Zips isn't going to be about the men from northeast Ohio.
"I don't know that I will get into what I expect from (Akron)," Fickell said. "We've talked to our team and we've said it a bunch, nothing arrogant, but we're focusing on ourselves and what we can do. We're going to worry about how we perform.
"Yes, we have ideas as a scouting report what we expect to see from (Akron), but I'm not here to say what I expect from them, I'm here to say what I expect from our team. What I expect from our guys is great effort, toughness and great discipline."
You can also expect to see two quarterbacks battling for a full-time gig Saturday, as fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller will be auditioning against the Zips to become the Buckeyes' starting quarterback.
Bauserman will likely get the first snap Saturday, but Miller should see action early and often. In fact, the depth chart lists the starting quarterback for the Akron game as "Bauserman or Miller."
Fickell wants to see how each player responds to playing in front of a packed house at the Horseshoe.
"Just talking with those guys and the coaching staff, we know we're going to need them both," Fickell said. "The whole idea is we can put them out there in front of 106,000 and see how those guys respond. We're trying to create competition."
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound native of Huber Heights (OH) is the player the fans are itching to see. The prep all-American has been pegged as the heir apparent to Pryor since he was a sophomore in high school. The dynamic signal caller has been enrolled at Ohio State since January, and has been extremely impressive in practice and live scrimmages throughout the off-season.
Although he isn't going to get the first snap Saturday, he's perhaps the frontrunner to become the starter once he gets his feet wet on the collegiate level.
"You're going to be on the field in front of 106,000 people and they're going to be looking at you," Fickell said of Miller. "But what's the difference from last year (in high school)? Yeah, the guys are bigger and faster, but you do what you do. Don't let it overwhelm you. It's on us as coaches to put you in situations where it lets you do what you do well. But we expect to see you do well, and we have enough confidence to put you out there ...
"He's listed as an 'or' because we believe in him."
Like Fickell, I am not going to get into what I expect the Zips to do, or even the Buckeyes for that matter.
The final outcome of this game is going to depend directly on Fickell. The Buckeyes simply possess too much talent for the Zips to contend with on Saturday, so it's going to come down to whether Fickell allows his guys to compete fully for 60 minutes, or dial it down in the second half to eliminate embarrassment for their guests.
I'll predict the latter ... for now.
PREDICTION: OSU 45-6.