Buckeyes avoid B1G West contenders, but schedule means no room for error in race to Playoff
Well, there you have it. The new schedule is out. We knew B1G teams would only play against B1G teams, and now we know which ones.
Gone is Ohio State’s marquee trip to Oregon in Week 2. Instead, they will start this confusing season by traveling to Illinois.
That’s um, a bit different. But not altogether terrible. Don’t worry — I’ll explain.
Because this new Ohio State schedule could be favorable, especially on the front end, if the Buckeyes are to make another run to the Playoff. The only difference is, there’s no longer any room for a misstep.
Let’s dive in and analyze Ohio State’s new Playoff chances, shall we?
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) August 5, 2020
On the whole, I like this change. While the first opponent, Illinois, brings back some talent from their bowl team a year ago, there’s no reason to fear a trip to Champaign to begin the year. Still, it’s an upgrade from the game the Buckeyes were slated to play (hosting Bowling Green). The Illini will provide the Buckeyes with more of a test than they were going to get, and that’s good.
Follow that with a home opener against Rutgers (if this game even happens — these guys are really struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak) and we’re off and running. Again, there’s no huge matchup with Oregon to look forward to, and that comes with good and bad. The good: A young Ohio State squad, still gelling and learning who will fill in on defense, doesn’t have to make the trip to Eugene and face a monumental game in the 2nd week of the year.
Of course, it’s also bad for all of those reasons, because an Ohio State victory over Oregon would have likely put the Buckeyes at No. 1 in the country and on the fast track to the Playoff.
Instead, to end the first month, Ohio State will face similar, good teams — not great, but good — in Purdue and Indiana.
Still, there should be no reason Ohio State isn’t 4-0 heading to the bye week Oct. 3. But things get a little more fun here, as 3 more so-so teams (Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland) are featured with the Big Game against Michigan, which has been moved to Oct. 24. (Interestingly enough, this was the date Ohio State was supposed to travel to its other monster game against Penn State, on the old, original schedule. But that was another life.)
I still don’t see Michigan coming into Ohio Stadium and winning, so the Buckeyes being undefeated still seems likely.
And that takes us into November, where all the marbles will be ready for the taking. Ohio State travels to Penn State on Nov. 7 in what could be a play-in game for the College Football Playoff.
The key difference to playing without nonconference games is Ohio State has virtually no room to get upset and still make the Playoff. A victory over Oregon would have helped its cause had it lost in Beaver Stadium or been upset along the way. Now, there is no safety net. No wiggle room. The Buckeyes will have to beat the Nittany Lions and they will have to then come back and beat a good Iowa team Nov. 21 to go on to the B1G Championship Dec. 5.
Can they do that? Of course. I would even bet on it — if I did such things.
There is nothing in this new schedule that makes me think Ohio State can’t make another run, and possibly even win the national championship. I thought that when I looked at the previous schedule, too, and nothing about Wednesday’s new schedule announcement changes my mind.
Now, young playmakers on offense can settle in and learn before having to produce on the biggest stage in Week 2. And a defense that has several question marks can figure it out on the field before their biggest games of the year, which now come in the second month of the season.
Make no mistake: Ohio State is still in the B1G driver’s seat.
The road didn’t get any more difficult, but it did get a bit more tenuous. There used to be some guardrails, some protection just in case the team veered off course. Now, every turn will have to be expertly navigated on the journey.
It’s time to buckle up.