Will Ohio State be able to run the table? Let's take a look at their schedule and find out...
8/30 @ Navy
If you've ready anything that I've written before, I've said that I won't criticize any of the service academies; those men are going to do something far greater than those of us who haven't served, and football is just a game. Luckily for Navy, though, even if I were to criticize the academies, I still wouldn't have much bad to say about the Middies. They have become a consistently successful program by any standard: after winning somewhere between one and three games each year for something like 40 years, they've won eight games or more ten times since 2000. The triple-option-we-use-rushing-like-the-Canadians-use-passing-to-kill-you offense is going to put quite a bit of pressure on the Buckeyes. Oh, and they have the second best helmet in college football.
9/6 Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer, Frank Beamer, Frank Beamer. No matter who the Hokies have on the field, head coach Frank Beamer is the heart and soul of this team. He expects a lot from his teams, and he gets a lot. Okay, so the Hokies have gone 15-11 the last two seasons, but don't forget that they went 121-38 from 2000-2011. It's only a matter of time before VT is good again, but a replacement needs to be found for the frustratingly inconsistent Logan Thomas at the quarterback position.
9/13 Kent State
Ohio State's tour of the "Worst State Ever" starts here with Kent State. It really sucks being a MAC school with a good coach, doesn't it? Darrell Hazell exploded onto the scene with Kent State and promptly left for Purdue. Great move. Now, the Golden Flashes have to figure out a way to succeed without Dri Archer, too.
Is there a chance that Urban Meyer will throw his alma mater a bone and allow the Bearcats to get a win here? Nope. Besides, even though Cincinnati won nine games in 2013, a 14-0 win over winless Miami and a six-point loss to a two-win South Florida team are hardly evidence of success. However, Tommy Tuberville may be able to have his team play the surprising challenger.
10/4 @ Maryland
I've brought up Stefon Diggs and Deon Long every time I needed to say something about the Terps, and with good reason. Maryland still finished the season ranked in the top 50 in passing even after losing those two men half way through the season. With the Ohio State secondary potentially having issues again this year, and after finishing ranked 110th in passing yards allowed last year, C.J. Brown should be super happy to have his two top targets back.
Hey, if you can't play Purdue...
10/25 @ Penn State
Penn State hasn't beaten Ohio State in Beaver Stadium since 2005. Christian Hackenberg (and a new receiving group that needs to produce) should be able to work over the OSU secondary, but the Buckeyes are too talented on offense to give up the ghost in this one and should be able to handle the Lions once again--regardless of what a "concerned PSU alum" said to me in an email. Sorry, "concerned".
The Illini have a tough row to hoe in 2014, with games at Washington, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin, and at Ohio State. Sandwiched in there are Texas State, Purdue, and Minnesota, so it appears as though Illinois will have one of those seasons of alternating wins and losses; no streaks or consistency.
11/8 @ Michigan State
The rematch of last year's B1G Championship Game will possibly be for a berth in this year's championship. I bet the Buckeyes are tired of Michigan schools playing the spoiler to their national title aspirations.
11/15 @ Minnesota
The Gophers are in the unenviable position of being on the wrong side of two incredibly dominated series. One is against Michigan, and the other against the Buckeyes. Although Minnesota had a thrilling 12-point win in 2000, it was only the second win against Ohio State since 1981. If there has ever been a Gophers coach who could change that streak, it is Jerry Kill; a man who may not get the best talent every year, but he's someone who can get the absolute best out of the talent he does have. And make no mistake, Mitch Leidner, Drew Wolitarsky, Maxx Williams, and David Cobb are very talented offensive players. Their defense may even be able to improve on last year's overall ranking of 43rd in the country. Wouldn't that be something?
Back in 2011 and 2012 the Hoosiers were able to keep their losses to Ohio State to pretty close scores: 34-20 and 52-49. 2013 was supposed to be a breakthrough year for Indiana, but even they couldn't take advantage of a Buckeye secondary that was the weakest part of the team; the result was a 42-14 loss in Columbus. This year's narrative is similar--Indiana has an explosive offense (missing some pieces from last year, though) and the Buckeye secondary is still questionable. That said, we're about 26 years out from the last Hoosier victory over the Buckeyes.
A missed two-point conversion was the only thing that separated these two great rivals in last year's match-up. Devin Gardner's performance was borderline mythical and, in spite of the worst offensive line in the history of Michigan football, he almost won the game all on his own. Does that say more about Michigan? Or more about Ohio State?
- Sure Things -- Kent State, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Indiana
- Probable -- Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota
- Toss-up(s) -- Navy, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Michigan
Yes, Urban Meyer went 24-2 in his first two seasons in Columbus, but after looking at their schedule, I don't think I'm as confident in their ability to just walk through the Big Ten as I was when I first started doing these schedule previews. Although I have Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, and Minnesota in the "Probable" category, they have the potential to be more difficult and threatening than we would normally assume. Maryland hasn't been seen by Big Ten teams yet, and they have some serious threats at the wide receiver position. Penn State boasts a quarterback who could be at the top of the league. Illinois will be in their second season under Bill Cubit's leadership on offense. And Minnesota has improved every year under Jerry Kill. Both Michigan schools are in the toss-up category because 1) Michigan State is the defending champion and they deserve all the respect that goes along with that status, and 2) Michigan was a two-point conversion away from spoiling the Buckeyes' season in 2013.
At the very very least, the Buckeyes will win eight hard-fought games; ten is where I draw the line. If I were forced to choose two losses for Ohio State, I'd put money on Navy and Michigan State. Mark it down, people, Ohio State will be 10-2.