COLUMBUS — Football coaches and optimism at the beginning of a season are constant companions, sort of like pancakes and syrup.
But deep down, they know. They know if their enthusiasm is real or contrived.
Ohio State will begin its season on Saturday against Navy in Baltimore and Urban Meyer says he’s excited about the season.
For real, he’s excited. Even with the loss of starting quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury, he says his excitement is genuine.
“I get excited if we have good players and a good team and I’ll fake it sometimes if we don’t have a good team,” Meyer said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “But, I’ll tell you, this is a good team.”
Ohio State has 11 starters returning from last season’s 12-2 team that finished with back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Auburn. Navy is coming off a 9-4 season and has quarterback Keenan Reynolds (1,466 yards rushing and 1,057 yards passing last season) back to lead its quirky triple option offense.
Replacing Miller with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has been put under the microscope and analyzed extensively since Miller went down in practice last Monday.
The redshirt freshman will be the first freshman to start at quarterback in an opener for OSU since Art Schlichter opened the season as the starter in 1978 against Penn State.
Precictably, OSU’s coaches and players say they’re confident Barrett can do what is being asked of him.
Meyer didn’t go as far as comparing him to Miller, but said he reminds him of last year’s highly successful backup, Kenny Guiton.
“He’s very Guiton-ish. He’s a calm guy. He is very business like in his approach. He’s not somebody you have to watch to see his demeanor because it’s the same as it was two weeks ago. He’s not a loud guy but he’s a very confident guy,” he said.
But Meyer says another reason for his optimism is that he is operating from a position of strength when selecting the players around Barrett.
“We have a good group of receivers we’re rotating in and out,” he said, listing returning starters Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, along with Dontre Wilson, Jaylin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Corey Smith.
He named four running backs who have looked good in preseason practice – Ezekiel Elliott, who is back from a wrist injury, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and freshman Curtis Samuel.
He also said battles between Jacoby Boren and Chad Lindsay at center and among three players at left guard are too close to call.
“If it (not knowing a starter) is because you have bad players, it’s a problem. But those are good players. They’re just battling and battling and battling,” Meyer said.
“I think we’re pretty ready. I like where we’re at, especially after today’s practice. I like how they responded to Braxton’s injury,” he said.
— Miller’s surgery: Quarterback Braxton Miller is scheduled to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder Tuesday, Meyer said. Noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews was to perform the surgery in Pensacola, Fla.
— Captains named: Ohio State will have five captains this season, three of them from the defense.
The defensive captains are tackle Michael Bennett, linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant. Tight end Jeff Heuerman and Miller will be the captains from the offense.
— Unfriendly confines: Saturday’s game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens.
That stadium has not been kind to either of Ohio’s NFL teams. The Cleveland Browns are 3-12 in that stadium and the Cincinnati Bengals are 5-14.