Ohio State's schedule presents an interesting challenge in 2019
Ryan Day has plenty of challenges facing him as he takes over as head coach at Ohio State. While everyone is curious about the quarterback situation, offensive strategy and defensive adjustments entering the season, it may actually be the Buckeyes’ 2019 schedule that presents the most interesting test.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not going to try and convince you that Ohio State’s schedule is the most difficult it’s faced in College Football Playoff era. Without a non-conference Power Five opponent on the docket, it’s hard to make that argument — at least it is six months before the season starts.
Ohio State will, however, face a difficult stretch within the schedule that it has (typically) avoided in the past.
From late September through October, Ohio State will be forced to play four straight games against some of the better teams in the B1G, and all four could potentially be ranked. Here’s a look at a brutal four-game stretch that runs from Sept. 28 through Oct. 26:
- Sept. 28: at Nebraska
- Oct. 5: vs. Michigan State
- Oct. 12: OFF
- Oct. 18: at Northwestern
- Oct. 26: vs. Wisconsin
That’s one of the tougher four-game stretches Ohio State has seen during the College Football Playoff era, even with the off week thrown right in the middle. The Buckeyes have usually had a buffer between some of the marquee matchups.
Since 2014, Ohio State has played ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks just once in the regular season — in 2015 when it closed the season at home against No. 6 Michigan State and in Ann Arbor against No. 12 Michigan. As you’ll remember, that loss to the Spartans in the second-to-last week of the year cost the Buckeyes a B1G East title and a second straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Just to throw this into the mix, Ohio State has only had back-to-back road games in two of the last five seasons — 2014 (at Michigan State, at Minnesota) and 2016 (at Wisconsin, at Penn State and at Maryland, at Michigan State).
Yes, only one of those teams in that four-game window finished the year ranked in the Associated Press top 25 — Northwestern finished at No. 21. But heading into next season, three are listed in CBS Sports’ way-too-early top 25. Wisconsin was projected to be No. 17 and Nebraska was slotted at No. 18. Northwestern rounded out the list at No. 25.
With a ton of defensive talent returning next fall, it’s entirely possible that Michigan State works its way into the top 25 early next season, as well.
Ohio State has dealt with some difficult stretches in the past. In 2017, a road trip to Iowa was sandwiched between home games against No. 2 Penn State and No. 13 Michigan State. Though the Buckeyes took care of business against the two ranked foes, the visit to Kinnick Stadium served as a trap game and held Urban Meyer and Co. out of the playoff, despite winning the B1G title.
In 2016, the Buckeyes had a similar four-game stretch as to what they’ll face in 2019. That year, they had a then-daunting schedule right in the heart of the B1G season, playing back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Penn State before hosting Northwestern and Nebraska:
- Oct. 15: at No. 8 Wisconsin (OT W 30-23)
- Oct. 22: at Penn State (L 24-21)
- Oct. 29: Northwestern (W 24-20)
- Nov. 5: No. 9 Nebraska (W 62-3)
The only loss came to Penn State, which eventually won the B1G title. And, realistically, the final two games of that period weren’t quite as challenging as expected. Northwestern finished that year 7-6 and Nebraska proved to be an undeserving top 10 team, finishing with losses in four of its final six games.
Considering the scarlet and grey have played ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks just once over the last five seasons, potentially battling four ranked teams in a five-week span would be quite the test.
If those five weeks from September to October aren’t enough, the Buckeyes also close out the season with another challenge: hosting Penn State before a trip to Michigan in the finale. To reference the way-too-early top 25 from CBS Sports again, the Wolverines are at No. 10 and Nittany Lions sit at No. 12.
There’s the possibility that, in the final eight games of the season, Ohio State could go head to head against six ranked opponents. There have been easier paths to a B1G title.
Obviously there’s no way to know whether or not all six teams will live up to the preseason expectations — especially this far in advance. Who knows, October could end up being a much easier month than expected. Right now, that four-game stretch — along with the final two games in November — looks pretty daunting.
Under new leadership, it should be pretty interesting to see how the Buckeyes approach a situation they’ve so rarely faced over the last five years.