With an overcast sky and 42-degree kickoff temperature, it felt like a typical fall football day in Columbus.
Not much has felt typical since the coronavirus pandemic hit about four months later, but Saturday could be another step back toward normalcy.
The stadium won’t be full, but it should be a lot less empty than it was for any game last season when attendance was limited mostly to close friends and family of the participants because of Big Ten regulations drawn up to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The largest group Ohio State had on hand, according to the athletics department, was 1,344 for the season-opener against Nebraska, and head coach Ryan Day mentioned more than once hearing the roar of the crowd was among the things players had to sacrifice so there could be a season in the midst of a pandemic.
Capacity has been set at 19,180 for Saturday’s game.
Of that, more than half will be staff of the Wexner Medical Center and other select entities on campus whose staff have provided care during the pandemic.
Those who can’t get in for the noon kickoff can watch on Big Ten Network or listen on the Ohio State Radio Network.
What will go on should be something like a real game, at least for a half.
“I think the idea is we are going to break up the teams and go Scarlet and Gray, at least for a half of football,” Day said early in the week. “And then try to play that the best that we can. Whether we tackle or not, that is yet to be determined. We’ll decide that probably midweek. But at the very least we’ll do a ‘thud’ (with hitting but not tackling) and split the team up and play at least a half of football.
“And then we may need to get some guys out of there and go into the second half with more of a controlled scrimmage atmosphere.”
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Here are the top three things to watch for:
1. The quarterbacks.
Day has kept his views of the competition between C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord closely guarded, but the trio of freshmen will get to throw the ball and try to run the offense in front of fans at Ohio Stadium for the first time Saturday.
No winner of the QB derby is likely to be chosen until fall, but this could be a big data point in a race that is expected to remain tight.
2. The running backs.
Sometimes the running game is an after-thought in spring games, especially if contact is limited, but this spring there is an embarrassment of riches at the position that includes a pair of highly touted freshmen fans haven’t had a chance to see yet.
TreVeyon Henderson and Isaiah Pryor both enrolled early because they want to play early, but they will have to jump over Master Teague III, Miyan Williams, Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers to make that happen.
Bonus: Watching the running backs should give a good indication of how much progress the new group of linebackers has made after the top four from last season graduated.
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3. The secondary (and the receivers).
Ohio State’s most maligned group of 2020 returns many familiar faces, but there are more new guys looking to make an impact in their first or second years on campus.
Cornerbacks Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos would like to show they can restore Ohio State to “CB U” status while the coaching staff has been rotating players throughout both safety spots and playing around with different players at the hybrid “Bullet” position, which can be interchangeable with the SAM linebacker depending on who wins either of those jobs.
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Bonus two: The quarterbacks will have no shortage of talented receivers to throw the ball.
Veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson might get little, if any, time in the spring game, but there is a large group of first- and second-year freshmen looking to find their way onto the depth chart.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming both were involved last season and newcomers such as Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. hope to do the same in their first college season.