- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Four days before his team hits the road for the first time this season, Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said he’s still not certain if he’ll have three suspended players back.

The 17th-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) play at Miami on Saturday, a showdown between programs dogged by NCAA problems that have led some to call the game the “Ineligi-bowl.”

“Right now we’re just … waiting. We’re not going to make any jumps to conclusions,” Fickell said. “We’ll wait and see and hopefully we’ll hear something soon.”

Tailback Jordan Hall and cornerback Travis Howard, tabbed as starters for the season opener, along with backup safety Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown, have been suspended two games so far for accepting $200 in cash to attend a charity event in suburban Cleveland in February.

Fickell said a week ago that they would be available for last Saturday’s game, a come-from-behind 27-22 victory over Toledo. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith also confirmed that their reinstatement was imminent.

But then the NCAA asked Ohio State to respond to several questions it had about the players’ suspensions, delaying their return and keeping them sidelined for a second game.

Neither the NCAA nor Ohio State immediately responded to questions on Tuesday about the status of the three players.

Fickell was asked why he was under the impression last week that the players would be allowed to play against Toledo.

“That’s what I was pretty much informed of, that they would be,” Fickell said. “I don’t want to get into it a whole lot, but then I was informed on Friday they were not be.”

If the three are not permitted to make the trip and play, it could be a big blow to the Buckeyes. They’re already down three 2010 starters and a backup who were suspended for the first five games of the season for accepting cash and improper benefits from a local tattoo-parlor owner.

The Buckeyes say they’ve had to accept the absences and move on.

“Everything that happened in the preseason got us prepared for things that happened in the season, like the three guys suspended last week,” defensive back Tyler Moeller said. “We’ve always had the saying, ‘Next man up.’ Those three guys couldn’t go, so three guys stepped up and did a great job last week. Whatever else happens to us, guys are going to come up and do the job.”

On top of the suspensions, several other key Ohio State players are hurting. Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown hurt a leg and was on crutches in the second half of the Toledo game. Defensive end Nathan Williams missed the Toledo game due to knee pain. And Braxton Miller, who is listed as the co-starting quarterback with Joe Bauserman, was “dinged up” according to Fickell last week and did not practice every day. That may have been one of the reasons why Miller, who split time in the opening-game rout of Akron, never got on the field against the Rockets.

Bauserman had played very well against Akron but he and the offense wasn’t nearly as sharp last week. He completed just 16 of 30 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. But he once again did not have a turnover, a fact that might be enough to keep him in the job for a while.

Some fans at Ohio Stadium booed when he threw a pass or two away to avoid a sack. His teammates look at that as a smart move.

“I think he’s been doing great. He hasn’t thrown any interceptions in two games,” center Mike Brewster said of Bauserman. “When you can do that in your first two starts, that’s impressive. He’s not trying to force anything, throwing it away when he doesn’t have anything.”

Ohio State’s coaches did not find out the three players were originally suspended until 48 hours before the opener. Then they thought they would be able to play them all last week before finding out late on Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the game.

Fickell said the injuries, the suspensions and all the distractions all make it difficult to prepare for a good Miami (0-1) team.

“I guess it’s a part of the game,” Fickell said. “I can’t let that affect us, and we just have to continue to move on and deal with it however it comes. But hopefully we’ll hear something soon and just so that we can most importantly prepare ourselves mentally.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.

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