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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Despite all its distractions, OSU may be better than expected


QB Joe Bauserman crosses the goal line for a running TD to go along with the three he tosses. (US Presswire)  
QB Joe Bauserman crosses the goal line for a running TD to go along with the three he tosses. (US Presswire)  

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was Akron, so who really can say, but what the heck -- I'll go ahead and say it:

Ohio State has two solid quarterbacks in Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller. Ohio State has a promising coach in Luke Fickell. And Ohio State has a team that won't be as bad as some people (OK, me) would have thought, given the terminations, suspensions and distractions of recent months.

Add up those three sentences -- don't forget to carry the one! -- and the Buckeyes beat Akron 42-0 on Saturday in the first game since Jim Tressel was fired and his rule-breaking quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, was kicked out of the program.

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The final score is mostly irrelevant, because Ohio State is a historically great program and Akron is a historically bad one. The Zips were 1-11 last season, and they're projected to finish last (again) in the MAC. This was a name-your-score kind of game for Ohio State, a game that requires some perspective. So I'll give it to you:

The last time Ohio State played Akron, in September 2007, the Buckeyes won but they looked terrible. They led just 3-2 in the third quarter, and the final was 20-2. That Akron team was another bad one -- it finished the season 4-8 -- and that Ohio State team was one of the best of the Tressel era, reaching the national championship game. And still, that score in 2007 was 20-2.

And the score Saturday was 42-0.

What does it mean? I really don't know. As a fan of the sport, I love the first weekend of the college football season -- but as a sportswriter, it scares me to death. Who knows how good Ohio State really is? Not me. But I do know this:

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman can handle the Buckeyes' quarterback position. He doesn't have the strongest arm and his foot speed is unremarkable, but he is startlingly accurate. He completed 72.7 percent of his passes last season as Pryor's backup, and it was more of that on Saturday, when he was 12 of 16 (75 percent) for 163 yards and three touchdowns in roughly one half of work. Tight end Jake Stoneburner caught all three touchdowns.

Bauserman also ran for 32 yards on six carries, including a 15-yard touchdown on a busted play. In the backfield with nobody to give the ball to, Bauserman spun to face the defense and picked his way through multiple defenders before reaching the end zone.

It was Bauserman's first start since his senior year of high school -- in 2003. Along the way he spent three years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league system before reporting to Ohio State in 2007 and working his way up the depth chart.

"You dream about it," he said of his debut as the OSU starter. "And then to come here and play well -- it felt good."

From the press box he looked good. So did backup Braxton Miller, who got better as the game went on and the Akron defense wilted, passing for 130 yards and a touchdown and running for 30 yards on six carries. So did the tailback tandem of sophomore Carlos Hyde and freshman Rod Smith, a pair of 235-pound backs who combined for 167 yards on 37 carries. The tight end scored three times. The receivers held on to every catchable ball, and freshman Evan Spencer held on to one that wasn't -- an overthrown 33-yard toss from Miller that Spencer caught with one hand by leaping, spinning and dragging a foot inbounds.

So the OSU offense looked good -- and the OSU defense? The defense pitched a shutout and gave up only 90 yards of total offense. If you'd been playing this game on PlayStation 3, you would have quit at halftime in search of something more competitive -- like maybe a baby, from whom you could steal candy.

So I don't know how good Ohio State really is. But I know what it's not -- and it's not mediocre. And that's what I expected to see, honestly, given the massive turnover at such key positions: the program's best quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive tackle (Mike Adams) and defensive end (Solomon Thomas) were suspended for five games in the spring, and two more starters (running back Jordan Hall and cornerback Travis Howard) were suspended indefinitely Thursday for accepting improper benefits.

And then there's Fickell. Who is Luke Fickell? Who knows? He was a nondescript assistant before replacing Tressel on an interim basis, but after one game it's safe to say Fickell is no Tressel when it comes to game-day coaching. Fickell calls a fun game, is my point. He goes for it on fourth-and-short. He calls trick plays. And he's never, ever satisfied. Up 21-0 with barely a minute left in the first half, Fickell used his timeouts to try to get the ball one last time. It wasn't a percentage play, so it wasn't the kind of thing Tressel would have done, but Fickell was showing killer instinct that Tressel showed only once in 10 years at Ohio State -- when he tried to hide the cheating of his best players.

Afterward, Fickell remained unsatisfied. His team had just won his coaching debut 42-0, outgaining Akron by more than a 5-to-1 margin, and he was unsatisfied.

"We're going to do a great job," Fickell said, "of not being satisfied."

I believe him. Fickell talks fast and with excitement, nothing like Tressel, a cold fish who did the post-game like a coroner does a post-mortem. Not that it matters, but Fickell is a much more hip guy than Tressel, too. Instead of a sweater vest, he wore a black golf shirt over some white Under Armour, a badass look if I do say so myself.

"This is what they gave me," Fickell said of his attire. "This is how I'll go."

How far will he go? Let me repeat myself: I have no idea. If Fickell faced 11 more MAC teams, he'd go 12-0 and then clamor for a BCS title game like he was TCU Boise State. Instead he'll play one more MAC team, Toledo, before playing Miami and Colorado -- before playing a Big Ten schedule that opens against defending champion Michigan State and includes games at Nebraska and Michigan, and games at home against Wisconsin and Penn State.

Might be a long season for the Buckeyes. Might not. Ohio State looked so good on Saturday, it was startling.

Then again, it was only Akron.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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