Conference schedule should test Ohio State

Joey Kaufman
Coach Luke Fickell led Cincinnati to an 11-2 record in 2018. The Bearcats will visit Ohio Stadium on Sept. 7. [John Minchillo/The Associated Press]

Ohio State’s schedule for this football season lacks a marquee nonconference opponent.

Unlike in recent seasons in which the Buckeyes met with teams from the Big 12 in September, or next season when they travel to Oregon, their early slate does not boast similar matchups.

Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter

The fall won’t be a cakewalk, though. In conference, they drew some of the better teams from the Big Ten West: Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. ESPN’s Football Power Index metric, for instance, ranks the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule at No. 26 in the nation.

With less than three weeks left until the season opener, The Dispatch examined Ohio State's upcoming regular season. Each of its games is given a 1-10 score, with 10 being the most difficult matchup possible and 1 being the easiest, followed by additional comment.

Aug. 31 vs. Florida Atlantic

Level of difficulty: 3

Skinny: It was only two seasons ago that Florida Atlantic finished 11-3, but the Owls slipped to 5-7 last fall and were drubbed by another college football blue blood in Week 1 when they lost at Oklahoma 63-14.

Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati

Level of difficulty: 6

Skinny: The Buckeyes have not lost to an instate opponent since 1921, though Cincinnati could test the streak. Under former Ohio State assistant and one-year head coach Luke Fickell, the Bearcats went 11-2 last season, finishing No. 24 in the final Associated Press poll, and they return a majority of their starters.

Sept. 14 at Indiana

Level of difficulty: 5

Skinny: Though Ohio State has not lost to Indiana since 1988, things haven’t always come easily in Bloomington in recent seasons. Two of the Buckeyes’ last three wins there were decided by single digits, including a 52-49 win in former coach Urban Meyer’s first season in 2012. The Hoosiers, though, have missed a bowl game during their first two seasons under coach Tom Allen.

Sept. 21 vs. Miami University

Level of difficulty: 2

Skinny: The RedHawks did not receive a bowl bid last season despite a 6-6 record, one of four bowl-eligible teams to miss the postseason. They haven’t beaten a team from a Power 5/BCS conference since 2007, when they snagged a 17-14 win over Syracuse, then a member of the Big East.

Sept. 28 at Nebraska

Level of difficulty: 7

Skinny: The expectation is that the Cornhuskers are poised for a Year 2 bump under coach Scott Frost despite a 4-8 record last season. Frost led Central Florida to an undefeated season in his second year there. In Lincoln, he works with sophomore Adrian Martinez, who is one of the more promising quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Whether Nebraska lives up the hype, the matchup is the stiffest early season test for Ohio State.

Oct. 5 vs. Michigan State

Level of difficulty: 7

Skinny: Is Mark Dantonio’s program trending downward? The Spartans have gone 20-18 since winning the Big Ten and reaching the College Football Playoff in 2015, prompting the latest staff reshuffling this offseason. This should be the first prime-time home kickoff for Ohio State.

Oct. 18 at Northwestern

Level of difficulty: 6

Skinny: The Buckeyes play on a Friday night for the first time since the Big Ten added such games in 2017. Despite the shortened game week, they are idle the previous weekend as they prepare for a rematch of last season’s conference championship game against the Wildcats.

Oct. 26 vs. Wisconsin

Level of difficulty: 5

Skinny: Thanks to the divisional realignment, this will be the Badgers’ first visit to Columbus since 2013. They’re recovering from a disappointing 8-5 season that began with playoff ambitions and a top-five preseason ranking in the AP poll. The Buckeyes’ revamped defense will need to stop another talented Wisconsin running back, Jonathan Taylor, who averaged 2,086 yards in his first two seasons in college.

Nov. 9 vs. Maryland

Level of difficulty: 4

Skinny: New coach Mike Locksley should see more success than his previous 2-26 head coaching stint at New Mexico, but he likely won’t have much in Columbus this November.

Nov. 16 at Rutgers

Level of difficulty: 2

Skinny: In their five matchups since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, Ohio State has won by scores of 52-3, 56-0, 58-0, 49-7 and 56-17.

Nov. 23 vs. Penn State

Level of difficulty: 8

Skinny: The team closest to surpassing Ohio State during its run of success under Meyer was Penn State. The Buckeyes escaped with one-point wins in the past two seasons after losing by three points in State College in 2016. Coach James Franklin must move on without quarterback Trace McSorley, but the Nittany Lions have stockpiled enough talent to pose a serious threat come senior day for Ohio State.

Nov. 30 at Michigan

Level of difficulty: 9

Skinny: If Michigan is ever going to break through under Jim Harbaugh (i.e., win its first Big Ten title since 2004 or reach the playoff), it better be this season, considering the turnover at Ohio State, plus the Wolverines' own experienced quarterback, Shea Patterson, and revamped offense. The last Michigan win over Ohio State did come in … Ann Arbor. The Game looms especially large this season.


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: