Ohio State concludes its nonconference schedule Saturday against Miami University, and it has been a nonleague slate unlike any in more than 80 years.
The poll era began in 1936, and every year since then the Buckeyes have played a team from what would now be considered a Power Five conference or an equivalent like Notre Dame.
Until this year. When TCU backed out of its home-and-home series with Ohio State to take Jerry Jones’ money and instead play one game at the Dallas Cowboys owner’s palace of a stadium last year, the Buckeyes had to scramble to find a replacement.
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Welcome, Miami University, and here’s your $1.3 million to be on the receiving end of what’s likely to be a beat down. The RedHawks (1-2) are a 39-point underdog against the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (3-0).
The biggest issue for Ohio State would seem to be overconfidence. Coach Ryan Day has spent much of his brief tenure building on the culture established by his predecessor in terms of demanding maximum effort and urgency at all times.
In 2012, Urban Meyer’s first season, the Buckeyes played woeful Illinois. In preparation that week, he never mentioned the Illini. Instead, he pushed his assistants relentlessly to ensure that Ohio State didn’t become complacent.
Day wants his players to have the same motivation as they would any week.
“We want to be the best at what we do, and we've talked about what that means, whether it's a sniper in the military or the best surgeon,” he said. “There's no small surgeries if you're a surgeon. There's no small games at Ohio State. If you're the best in America, you need to show that every week. That's our goal, and we're not ashamed to say that. We want to be the best.”
The Buckeyes have barely been tested this year, outscoring Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Indiana by a combined 138-31. Dominating as Ohio State has been, Day said the Buckeyes still have major improvements to make.
“Human nature tells you to cut corners, tells you to change things,” Day said. “It’s easy to get distracted (and have) a lot of people in your ear. None of that stuff can change. We have momentum right now. We have to keep that going, and we can't get distracted. (If) that happens, then you set yourself up for failure.”
The Buckeyes had no shortage of motivation the first three weeks. Florida Atlantic was the opener. Cincinnati was regarded as a legitimate threat with Luke Fickell returning to Ohio Stadium as UC coach. Indiana was the Big Ten opener and first road game.
On paper, Miami is the calm before the rest of the Big Ten storm.
“They’re going to come in here looking to make a name for themselves,” Day said. “We have to make sure we play as tough, as hard and with as much energy as we have in the first three games.”
The Buckeyes were expected to have growing pains with a new quarterback in Justin Fields and a revamped defense. But Fields has been superb and the defense even better. Ohio State is yielding only 1.7 yards per rush, fourth-best in the country, and its pass defense has been close to air-tight.
Though Nebraska awaits next week, followed by Michigan State, the Buckeyes insist their attention is strictly on Miami.
“We’re doing our best not to look ahead and focus on what we can control right now, and that’s just working every week,” center Josh Myers said.