COLUMBUS — No. 4 Ohio State’s players aren’t exactly thrilled to be playing a Football Championship Subdivision opponent Saturday.
Asked if he’d prefer to be playing a team similar in stature to the Buckeyes, safety Christian Bryant said, “I would. I like to showcase our talent. I would like to play, like, bigger games.”
That’s the dilemma facing the Buckeyes (3-0) heading into Saturday’s game at Ohio Stadium against Florida A&M (1-2).
They would like to tune up for the start of Big Ten play the following week, but first they must play an overwhelming underdog that doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing.
Coach Urban Meyer recognizes the problem. He’s heaped praise on the talent of opponents Buffalo, San Diego State and California — calling at least one player from each as one of the best in the nation at their position. But even he can’t make the Rattlers sound like a viable threat.
“I could give you some coach-speak up here (but) it does make a difference” when the opponent is from a lower division, Meyer said. “So we are going to have to really coach (the players) hard this week.”
The game marks the second time in recent years that Ohio State has elected to pay big money to an FCS — or, in the case of Youngstown State back in 2008, NCAA Division I-AA — school to come to Columbus.
Florida A&M, coming off losses to Tennessee State and Samford, will get $900,000 to take on the Buckeyes.
If he had a choice, Bryant said the opponent would “definitely be a top-10 team.”
“But it’s really out of our control,” he said. “I’m not really sure who makes the schedule, but we’ve still just got to go out there and face whatever team is put in front of us.”
The days of ranked teams playing FCS teams may be nearing the end, with Ohio State and most other top teams upgrading their schedules to accommodate the new four-team football playoff which begins next season.
The Buckeyes have home-and-home series with Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, TCU, Oregon and Texas over the next decade.
For now, though, the Rattlers will have to do.
Ohio State is averaging 44.7 points a game — and that’s without its top quarterback, Braxton Miller, who has missed almost all of the past two games with a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Meyer isn’t worried. He stopped short of calling an overmatched team a “faceless opponent,” but said he believes his team is in the right frame of mind.
The Buckeyes entertain Wisconsin a week from Saturday in their first conference game of the season. It’s difficult to muster much motivation for the Rattlers.
“The one thing I told my guys today, I said, ‘Listen, this week is about us,’” tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said. “This is a challenge (for) us. The bottom line is how well do we do what we need to do. Normally the odds are in our favor that if we do a pretty good job, we’ll win the game.”
The Buckeyes don’t have a whole lot to clean up. They’ve walloped all three opponents so far, outrushing them by a 3-to-1 margin while passing for almost as many yards and forcing almost twice as many turnovers.
There still are some wrinkles to iron out, however. Cal quarterback Jared Goff threw for 371 yards, so maybe the pass rush could supply more pressure.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said there’s no hiding from the fact that an FCS team doesn’t capture the imagination of the players.
“The players know it, everybody knows it,” he said. “But our job is to go out there and be ready to play 60 minutes of physical, tough, Ohio State football.”
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton has been stellar since stepping in for the injured Miller.
He’s completing almost 70 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception. This week’s Big Ten offensive player of the week has also run for 175 yards the past two games.
Regardless of the opponent, Guiton said, the goals are always pretty much the same.
“You come out and you sharpen up your tools,” he said. “We want to be perfect. You’re never going to be perfect, but that’s what you play for.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP.
WHO: No. 4 Ohio State vs. Florida A&M
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
TV/RADIO: Big Ten Network; WEOL 930-AM, WKNR 850-AM