For the Ohio State Buckeyes and their legions of fans across the state and nation, it probably seemed like this weekend would never get here.
It was last November - just a few days after OSU lost to arch-rival Michigan - that Athletic Director Gene Smith announced the hiring of Urban Meyer as the university's 24th head football coach after a 6-6 regular season, which was Luke Fickell's audition for the permanent position after he was hired on an interim basis to replace Jim Tressel, who resigned on Memorial Day 2011, amid an NCAA scandal.
All season long, Buckeye fans just seemed to be biding their time until the OSU administration went after Meyer, who took last year off from coaching and spent the season in the ESPN broadcast booth after resigning at Florida due to health reasons.
As rumors about his impending hiring were gaining steam with each passing day, Meyer took himself off the call of the Buckeyes' game at Michigan and spent the weekend with his family, which is where he received its blessing and signed the famous contract, which is printed on pink paper, allowing him to explore a return to major college football coaching.
A few days later, the deal got done and Meyer hit the ground running. He put together a coaching staff, which includes holdovers in Fickell, Mike Vrabel and Stan Drayton; a top-five recruiting class and then into spring drills where he formally installed his spread offense and then what's been termed one of the most grueling and demanding pre-season camps that the current OSU players had ever been through.
Now, it's finally time to tee it up inside Ohio Stadium for real as Miami University's Redhawks come to Columbus for a high noon kickoff.
"To say I'm excited about Saturday, it would be a very shallow statement, because I think everyone knows that," Meyer said during his first game-week press conference earlier this week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. "I'm honored to be here, honored to be the coach of the Ohio State University football team and to come back home and coach in the great state of Ohio."
The honeymoon comes to an end Saturday as Meyer leads his team onto the field in front of 105,000-plus fans, who are hungry for their Buckeyes to get back on top of the college football world as quickly as possible. However, that won't happen this season since the NCAA has hit the Buckeyes with a one-year bowl band because of the memorabilia for tattoos scandal.
"Our team is going to be focused on getting from point A to point B as fast as you can go," Meyer said. "At some point, we'll address (no bowl game), but now is not the time. We want the players to give us four to six seconds of relentless effort (on the field) each play. There are no conversations about week 13, week 14, week 15 and Christmas break. It's full metal jacket just to get to Saturday."
Sticking with what's become a tradition for opening day games at Ohio States, the Buckeyes will face an in-state rival in the RedHawks. OSU is 4-0 against Miami, including a 34-14 victory in 2005. Ohio State - the flagship institution of the Buckeye State - owns a 179-48-15 record against Ohio schools and have won 37 consecutive games.
Ohio State is a big favorite to extend its streak against the RedHawks, but Meyer's debut at the school where he earned his master's degree and got his coaching start under his mentor Earle Bruce will only happen once. But, by no means will he allow Saturday to be about him.
"Our players deserve to play well on Saturday, and I'd say if they didn't deserve it," Meyer said. "I want to make the great state of Ohio proud and win this game coming up and look good doing it. Our kids deserve that."
One of those players that Meyer and all of the fans will especially be keeping a close eye on is sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller as he begins his second season at the helm, but first in a spread offense that seams tailor-made for his skillset.
"When we first got him there wasn't a whole lot of urgency," Meyer said. "I think the no huddle, up-tempo offense makes the quarterback have to be urgent, and I think he's becoming a pro at what he does."
Miller passed for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns last season after taking over for Joe Bauserman. However, no OSU receiver had more than 14 catches in the passing game.
All three of those receivers are back in Devin Smith, Jake Stoneburner, who has converted to wide receiver after being a tight end last season, and Corey "Philly" Brown.
"I'm pleased (with the progress of our receivers), but you don't know until you know," Meyer said. "I like what I've seen so far. They're a much different outfit than they were. In the last week of spring (practice), you could start to see the glimpses of something that looked like you could actually do some things."
The tailback spot is a concern because of depth. Carlos Hyde will start on Saturday and the team will be without senior captain Jordan Hall. He was injured in a bizarre incident in June when he stepped on a piece of glass outside of his Columbus apartment and cut his foot. He's expected to be back for week three's game against Cal.
Hyde will be backed up by true freshman Bri'onte Dunn. Senior captain Zach Boren is back at the fullback spot.
Up front, Corey Linsley is the starting center and he's really impressed Meyer during camp. Reid Fragel - a converted tight end - won the job over true frosh Taylor Decker, but both will see quality time. Jack Mewhort, who along with Stoneburner, had his scholarship stripped for the summer term after being in trouble in June will get the start at left tackle. Andrew Norwell is the left guard and Marcus Hall is the right guard. Nick Vannett, who played for John Magistro at Westerville Central, came basically from nowhere to win the job at tight end.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes must contend with a proficient Redhawks offense that is amongst the nation's best in the passing game thanks to quarterback Zac Dysert, who has 8,530 yards passing in his career and trails only Ben Roethlisberger on the Miami career list. He's also thrown 48 career touchdowns.
On the outside, the Redhawks boast one of the most prolific receivers in the country in Nick Harwell, who was the second-leading receiver in America with 97 catches for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns.
"Miami's spread is completely different than our spread, it's actually a 180 from the point that they're a spread that throws it," Meyer said. "We're a spread that probably by the end of the day we might be 50-50 or 60-40 run pass. Their quarterback is a tremendous player and their receiver is really good, too. Those two kids could play anywhere in America."
The Buckeyes' defense wants to get pressure on Dysert and make life difficult for him and they feel they can do that with the front four, which includes senior captains John Simon and Garrett Goebel at end and tackle, respectively. Johnathan Hankins is the returning starter at defensive tackle and Michael Bennett is at the other end.
The linebacking crew is led by Etienne Sabino, who was voted a captain by his teammates. Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier are ticketed for the middle and outside backer spots, respectively. In the secondary, Bradley Roby returns at corner, while Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett are ticketed for safety. Travis Howard is a corner.