Cal provides OSU with toughest non-Big 10 foe

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M certainly wouldn’t be known as a Murderer’s Row when it comes to college football. But the Aztecs in game 2 and the Golden Bears in game 3 back-to-back could cause Ohio State some, but probably not unmanageable, problems in the non-conference portion of the highly-touted Buckeyes’ 2013 schedule

However, no team can ever take any opponent too lightly – you’re just asking for trouble then. So even though OSU doesn’t play a Big Ten foe until Wisconsin comes calling on the Buckeyes for a prime-time night game Sept. 28, Urban Meyer will more than likely have his 2013 squad hyped up and ready to go when it kicks off the season on Aug. 31 versus Buffalo from the Mid-American Conference.

Buffalo,

Aug. 31

Kickoff at noon on ESPN2

The Buffalo Bulls – no, not the NFL Bills, but the Bulls – are not exactly one of your stellar MAC teams, going 4-8 last season, Supposedly, though, Buffalo looks to be improved this fall, but are still seen as no more than a middle-tier MAC team at best.

First off, there’s a quarterback situation to deal with. Starter Alex Zordich had sort of an up-and-down season last year until being injured late in 2012 and replaced by a freshman in Joe Licata. So who ends up as No. 1 on the depth chart for this season is still up in the air.

The Bulls, though, do have a senior pair of All-MAC performers in running back Branden Oliver and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who are as good as they come.

However, the Buffalo offense could possibly make some noise working against a pretty new defensive front for OSU with Oliver lugging the pigskin. But behind that are the Buckeye linebackers (Ryan Shazier, Curtis Grant and company) and a solid shutdown secondary to stifle any further intrusion downfield.

And offensively, the Buckeyes will be working against a Bull ‘D’ that isn’t really expected to have a single underclassman starting. But even if Ohio State has some first-game jitters or foul-ups, the Buckeyes’ numbers and talent differential in their favor will eventually wear down the Bulls.

San Diego State,

Sept. 7

Kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on ABC or ESPN2

San Diego State, where Brady Hoke was in charge from 2008-10 before moving on to Michigan, finished 9-4 last season, rebounding from a slow start with its defense leading the way in the turn-around.

And nearly that entire Aztec defensive unit returns this season, paced last year by defensive tackle Sam Meredith with 28 1/2 tackles, and is seen by Football Outsiders as being a top-40 defense this fall.

SDSU too sports maybe one of the best non-BCS league linebacking corps – MLB junior Jake Fely (79 tackles, 7 sacks last season), flanked by OLBers Derek Largent (49 1/2 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, 2 interceptions) and Nick Tenhaeff (45 tackles, 3 sacks). But the Aztecs may be vulnerable in the secondary and in particular at cornerback.

On offense, returning running back Adam Muema is the motor, rushing for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.

OSU, 3-0 all-time versus the Aztecs, may have an advantage over San Diego State in other facets of the game as well as the Aztecs aren’t strong in pass protection and their offense is not particularly explosive – both pluses for the Buckeye defense.

At Cal,

Sept. 14

Kickoff at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports

This should be the most interesting matchup of Ohio State’s non-conference card, especially with it being the Buckeyes’ first road game – a long trip to the West Coast – and against a team they struggled to beat in Columbus last season.

Still, the Golden Bears won only three games last year, and are not picked to undergo a complete transformation to world-beaters in their first year under new, but veteran, head coach Sonny Dykes.

But Cal’s not necessarily a pushover either as last year’s game was too close for comfort, and could have easily gone either way.

Nevertheless, Cal’s offense returns only four starters from last season’s 3-9 campaign.

Cal may start an early-entry true freshman, Jared Goff, at quarterback after an impressive showing in the spring game. Dykes likes Goff’s high football IQ and that he’s a finesse player. However, Cal’s offensive line is minus three starters from last season, emphasizing the fact it will probably need to protect Goff even more so than if he was an experienced QB.

Cal’s defense has only five starters back in 2013, with the Golden Bears thin up front, but appear to be solid at linebacker, although needing some help in the secondary as well.

Offensively for OSU, shifty quarterback Braxton Miller may prove difficult for Cal’s defense to contain, especially with the Golden Bears a little weak on the defensive line and in the secondary.

So along with Ohio State’s improved defense and despite Cal’s home field advantage,the Buckeyes should wing their way home victorious.

Florida A&M,

Sept. 21

Kickoff and TV time not set yet

Last season, even though Florida A&M went only 4-7, junior quarterback returnee Damien Fleming threw for over 2000 yards and 16 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

But although the Rattlers were a relatively-young team last year, they don’t return many of their skill-position players, needing to replace both their leading rusher and leading receiver.

The 2013 FAMU defense features a young, but talented secondary, led by junior roverback Devan Roberts with sophomore Patrick Aiken looking like a future star at cornerback. But on the D-line, two of three starters graduated and at linebacker, Mike Ducre is the lone returning starter.

With Ohio State’s veteran offensive line and its solid group of running backs along with Miller, there’s no reason the Buckeyes can’t run roughshod over the front seven of the Rattlers. The FAMU secondary is good enough to be on par with that of a low-tier FBS team, so look for OSU to emphasize the run before Miller begins to air the ball out.

As Ohio State’s only FCS opponent this year, the Rattlers shouldn’t present much of a challenge for Meyer’s “Urbanators.”