COLUMBUS - There was a lot to like about the start of The Luke Fickell Era on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
- Ohio State finally got to play a game.
The Buckeyes finally got to hit somebody else after doing little since the end of the 2010 season but take hits from all sides. For the first time in months, Ohio State's players and coaches were to concentrate fully on football.
- The results were encouraging.
Ohio State overwhelmed Akron, 42-0. The Buckeyes outgained the Zips, 517-90, in total yards. They limited Akron to just 35 rushing yards and five first downs.
- Ohio State won with ease despite several suspensions.
Left tackle Mike Adams, tailback Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey and defensive end Solomon Thomas will miss the first five games because of their involvement in the tattoos and memorabilia scandal. Late last week, Ohio State announced that running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Brown would also miss the opener after accepting improper benefits of less than $300 earlier this year.
Few were worried the absence of all those players would leave the Buckeyes vulnerable against the Zips, who went 1-11 last season. But Ohio State's depth was challenged, especially at tailback and in the secondary.
The good news is that the Buckeyes won easily and were able to get some young players invaluable experience on both sides of the ball.
Fickell was asked if Hall, Howard and Brown would be back against Toledo next week. Fickell spoke for a while on the subject, but never really answered the question.
"We're going to continue to focus today on the guys that we have, the people and the kids and young men that were out there," he said. "We'll worry about those things here as the next week comes in.
"But I'm excited. I'm proud. I'm happy for all those guys down in that locker room that battled the conditions and fought through everything. That's what I want to make sure I focus on and we focus on now."
Read into that what you will. But if I had to guess, I wouldn't bank on those three guys playing against the Rockets.
- Joe Bauserman played well and looks like a legitimate starter.
Bauserman was 12 of 16 for 163 yards and three touchdowns, all to tight end Jake Stoneburner. Backup Braxton Miller did most of his damage in the second half and finished 8 of 12 for 130 yards and a touchdown.
The depth chart listed Bauserman or Miller as the starting quarterback. But the fifth-year senior played with poise few had seen in him in brief opportunities the last few years as Terrelle Pryor's backup.
More than a few observers, including yours truly, wondered if the current quarterback situation would play out like that of Todd Boeckman and Pryor in 2008, with the freshman Miller eventually taking over for a less talented veteran.
But Bauserman looked a little more like Craig Krenzel than Boeckman, at least on Saturday.
- The defense seems fine despite the suspensions and the loss of seven starters from a season ago.
The front four is strong with Cardinal Mooney product John Simon and Nathan Williams. Linebacker Andrew Sweat led the Buckeyes with six tackles, an interception and a fumble. He also had two tackles for loss. Cornerback Dominic Clarke played very well as Howard's replacement.
And, despite all those positive developments, there is still one huge qualifier:
All of them came against Akron.
What sort of measuring stick are the Zips, who allowed 224 rushing yards, 293 passing yards and didn't come close to scoring themselves?
Youngstown State gave defending Big Ten Conference co-champion Michigan State a better game than Akron gave Ohio State.
And I don't point this out to denigrate the Zips. They're in a serious rebuilding mode.
Toledo is next for the Buckeyes, but even the Rockets can't be expected to challenge Ohio State at the Horseshoe.
There may be even more to like about Fickell and his first Buckeyes team, but Akron and Toledo aren't good gauges. We'll learn more about this Ohio State team from a road game at Miami on Sept. 17, a home date with the Spartans on Oct. 1 and another road game at Nebraska on Oct. 8.
But the earliest returns, at least, are good.
Fickell had the Buckeyes motivated and prepared. There were doubtlessly some fans who missed former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and his sweater vest on Saturday, but there couldn't have been many who watched Fickell's debut and came away feeling the Buckeyes were in serious trouble without their former coach.
Fickell, who spent the last 10 years learning at Tressel's side, acquitted himself well during preseason camp and again before, during and after Saturday's game. He and his staff also put the players who were in uniform into the best position to make plays.
Ohio State fans had to like that and more.