- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The roster was always going to be shorthanded in the opener due to suspensions.
Before Ohio State could kick off its season and start the hunt for a national title, yet another starter walked out to the field in street clothes to trim the depth even more.
Once the game started, the Buckeyes pulled out one more first-teamer early to protect against injury. And along the way on a hot, August afternoon, their Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and a potential All-American at linebacker suffered through issues with cramps to force even more backups into prominent roles, even if only temporarily.
In all, it didn't really make much difference in the outcome against overmatched Buffalo. But the list of players missing in action to open the year made it difficult to gauge just how dangerous No. 2 Ohio State can truly be when it has a full roster at its disposal, though it is planning on being much closer to full strength by the weekend when it plays host to San Diego State looking for another early non-conference victory.
"We have to got to do a little better," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "The good thing is we have a chance to get better. I'm anxious to see a lot of improvement.
"We're starting to get our roster back intact."
That starts with the return of one of the roster's most talented players in cornerback Bradley Roby, with the one-game suspension for an off-the-field incident for the ESPN.com first-team All-American now in the rearview mirror.
Roby should be joined by safety C.J. Barnett, who was a surprising scratch with a previously undisclosed ankle injury last week, and the tandem figures to allow the Buckeyes to be even more aggressive with their man coverage and blitz packages after somewhat dialing back a bit without the veterans.
The backfield will get a boost with Rod Smith also returning from a one-game suspension after a violation of team rules earlier this year, giving the offense yet another weapon as Meyer tries to expand the spread attack. And while center Corey Linsley did play against Buffalo, he was pulled relatively quickly to guard against further damage to his surgically repaired foot.
And assuming quarterback Braxton Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier are able to stay better hydrated and on the field, the Buckeyes shouldn't have to deal with the drop-off that comes from taking two of the most productive players in the country out of the lineup for stretches against the Aztecs.
Collectively, those players all put the Buckeyes in position to get a glimpse at what a potential title candidate might actually look like.
Meyer wasn't really afforded that chance to start the year, but both he and San Diego State might see a noticeable difference in Ohio State even just one week later.
19hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward