COLUMBUS, Ohio – Enough with the appetizers and the preludes for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Spring workouts, fall camp — they're all finished. Now it's on to the real thing.
Next in the sights of the nation's second-ranked team is its opener on Saturday again Buffalo.
Coach Urban Meyer says he doesn't want a rerun of what happened a year ago, his first prowling the sidelines at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes struggled in the first quarter, punting on their first four possessions, and trailed 7-0 to Miami (Ohio). There were mistakes everywhere and, even though they finished up coasting to a lopsided 56-10 win, Meyer was upset.
Now he's looking for crisp play, efficiency and a killer attitude.
"I want us to play well. I want us to play clean," he said of his team's opener at the Horseshoe against the Bulls. "I'm hoping that we leave that field Saturday, obviously with a win, but you feel good about the fundamentals of your football team. If you do that, that's a real positive."
Meyer also was unhappy with the way his team played in the ensuing three weeks after the Miami victory. But then something clicked in the Big Ten opener at Michigan State and the Buckeyes were off and running to a 12-0 season.
This year he wants to see his team playing well from very start.
Despite the Buckeyes' lofty ranking, they still have some areas of concern. The defense will be missing eight starters against Buffalo, with new faces filling all four spots on the line and two of the three linebacker spots.
It's enough to make anyone a little nervous, even though the Buckeyes know they have a lot of talent on offense and a bunch of quality players waiting in the wings on defense.
"The only concerns I have right now is about the linebackers," said Ryan Shazier, the only holdover starter on the front seven from a year ago. "I have to try to get them right. Everything else, on the D-line and the secondary, I feel they're doing a great job. We have a lot of inexperience right now in the front seven and a lot of young guys.
"When we get a lot of guys that haven't played together, it's kind of a struggle."
It may be difficult to tell just where the defense stands. Buffalo was just 4-8 a year ago and the offense was 99th in scoring at just over 21 points a game.
Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes' co-defensive coordinator, doesn't have any major concerns about the linemen and linebackers, however.
"I feel great about (the front seven), to be honest. I really do," he said. "I really have a lot of confidence in what they've done, the maturity they've shown throughout camp."
Ohio State will also be without standout cornerback Bradley Roby, suspended for the opener after a legal problem.
The Buckeyes are the highest-ranked team ever to face the Bulls. No wonder coach Tim Quinn, 9-27 heading into his fourth season at the school, recognizes that his team can't fumble and bumble at the outset either.
In fact, he believes the Bulls have to play like a team with five or six games under their belts.
"We know Ohio State's a tremendous football team," he said. "It's one of the elite programs when you look at what they did last year, being 12-0. We know it's a race to be in midseason or late-season form, right at the beginning."
The Buckeyes haven't changed much. Sure, there are new names to learn, particularly on defense. On offense, Braxton Miller is back running the same uptempo, no-huddle spread offense, with mostly the same players — his side of the ball has nine starters back.
"When and how the ball is distributed may be a little bit different being that we have improved on the perimeter and at little bit at quarterback, too," said co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Jordan Hall, back from an injury-plagued season, will get the call at tailback and occasionally, the hybrid H-back. Last year's leading-scorer, Carlos Hyde, and top backup Rod Smith are both also suspended, so Bri'onte Dunn, Warren Ball and freshmen Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson will all see action.
Meyer hung large signs up at the end of the Buckeyes' indoor practice field heralding "The Chase."
A year ago his team was just trying to regain some respectability and came up with a shockingly perfect season. Now that they are highly ranked, the scales have tipped the other way and other teams will target them.
"(Last year) we were 12-0 and some really great things happened, some incredible leadership, motivation and a team that got really, really close," Meyer said. "(Now it is) blocking, tackling and great football position and the things we work so hard at.
"That's a big part of The Chase."
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP