Note: This column appears in the Wednesday, June 26 newspaper on Page B1.
Much like many others in the state of Ohio, I’m a die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes fan. In my 22 years of watching Ohio State (I started watching football when I was 5 years old), I’ve been pretty spoiled when it comes to winning.
Since 1997, the Buckeyes have posted a combined record of 222-51 — including two national championships and multiple Big Ten championships.
Still, I’m realistic with my expectations. As I look down the Buckeyes’ schedule for this season, it is not exactly loaded. That’s probably a good thing, especially with a first-year head coach in Ryan Day, a new system and the third quarterback under center in three years.
Clemson and Alabama are the top dogs in college football, there’s just no other way around that. Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma are a few steps below them, but gaining some ground.
Do I believe the Buckeyes win the National Championship this year? No. Not a chance. But do I believe they can still win 10 games and the Big Ten? Yes, I do. Going down the schedule, here’s how I believe this season shapes out for Ohio State.
Saturday, Aug. 31: Florida Atlantic University
A battle of two offensive-minded head coaches in Day and Lane Kiffin. Although Kiffin can call plays a breakdown an opposition’s defense as good as anyone in the country, the Owls simply don’t have enough talent and depth to hang with the Buckeyes. It’ll be a rough start for Ohio State for a quarter or so, but the team will put everything together and run the Owls off the field.
Saturday, Sept. 7: University of Cincinnati
This is an underrated game on Ohio State’s schedule, simply because of who Cincinnati’s head coach is: former Ohio State player, defensive coordinator and interim head coach Luke Fickell. He’ll empty his whole arsenal for this one, and expect this one to be close. But in the end, the Buckeyes have too many playmakers and they’ll pull away late for the win.
Saturday, Sept. 14: Indiana University
This will be Ryan Day’s first Big Ten game as coach, and it’s on the road. Indiana has always given Ohio State problems in the past, but that was when Kevin Wilson was head coach. Well now, Wilson is Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Still yet, it’s a tricky contest because it’s the first road game. But Ohio State should ride the legs of J.K. Dobbins, and that should be enough to get it out of Bloomington with the win.
Saturday, Sept. 21: Miami (OH) University
After going on the road and discovering what area they need to sharpen quick, fast and in a hurry for the upcoming Big Ten slate, the Buckeyes have the perfect opponent to work some things out against. The Redhawks pose no serious threat to the Buckeyes, and this gives other guys who need some snaps a chance to sharpen themselves. This game has the word “blowout” written all over it.
Saturday, Sept. 28: University of Nebraska
It was nice while it lasted, but I believe this is where Ohio State suffers its first loss of the season. The elements in this are just far too great from a distance. It’s a road game and probably going to be flexed to prime time a la Purdue last season. Nebraska coach Scott Frost is looking for that signature win. While I don’t believe it will be a blowout, the Cornhuskers will control this game start to finish. If Ohio State somehow pulls this one out, I’ll be thoroughly impressed.
Saturday, Oct. 5: Michigan State University
Get ready for the ugliest game of the season. Whether it’s played in the pouring rain, a snow storm (it is Ohio after all), or even perfect field conditions, this is never a pretty game. Last year, it was 26-6 Ohio State. I don’t think either team scores 21 points, but the offensive line will open holes for Dobbins, Master Teague and Steele Chambers to run through for a low scoring victory.
Saturday, Oct. 12: No scheduled game
Weird. But hey, they’ll take a week off. Couldn’t have come at a better time.
Friday, Oct. 18: Northwestern University
I’ll be the first to say it, college football should not be played on a Friday. Fridays are for high school games. Period. Now that I got that out of the way, I had mixed feeling about this one because it’s Friday and on the road against the team the Buckeyes beat in last year’s Big Ten Championship. But since they’re coming off a bye and have had a little more time to rest up, I think they’ll sneak out a victory.
Saturday, Oct. 26: University of Wisconsin
What has happened to the Badgers? They used to be the team that ran opponents into the ground and possessed a stingy top-10 defense. Now, Wisconsin-Whitewater could beat them. And that’s no disrespect to Wisconsin-Whitewater, which is a Division III powerhouse. Wisconsin is starting over from scratch with a new quarterback, which doesn’t bode well considering how much they’ve fallen off. Ohio State will be fine, and Justin Fields should have a big day.
Saturday, Nov. 2: BYE
This is a scheduled bye week. Rare that any teams get two off weeks during the season. But it’s needed for the final stretch.
Saturday, Nov. 9: University of Maryland
No way Ohio State should have beaten the Terrapins last season. But what’s done is done, and this time around there should be no doubt — especially at home. This isn’t a statement game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a chance for Ohio State to show that its focused on ending the season strong and controlling its destiny to the Big Ten Championship. Big win for the Buckeyes.
Saturday, Nov. 16: Rutgers University
Part of me feels bad for Rutgers. They’re never going to win in the Big Ten, and they take beating after beating every single year. But this is a trap game for Ohio State with Penn State and “TTUN” following after this game. Focus will be the word of the week around Ohio State. Although Rutgers doesn’t have the talent the Buckeyes do, it doesn’t mean an upset can’t happen. Ultimately, it won’t happen, but this is a game to watch out for.
Saturday, Nov. 23: Penn State University
It’s sort of fun watching Penn State mess things up for themselves year after year against Ohio State. The sad part now is that the Nittany Lions have to start all over again. No Tracy McSorley and no Myles Sanders, but still the same James Franklin. While they’ll have everything down pat by the time this game comes, so will Ohio State. And it’s at Ohio State this year. Better luck next year, Nittany Lions.
Saturday, Nov. 30: That Team Up North
Look, I don’t care if Ohio State is 0-11 up to this point (OK, I lied about that, but you get what I mean), but this is the one game Ryan Day better not lose. Even if it is at their place. Ohio State has lost to those guys just three teams since 2000, and once this decade. I don’t care if Desmond Howard, Braylon Edwards, Charles Woodson, Mario Manningham, Mike Hart, Chris Perry and Denard Robinson all play for the Wolverines. Ohio State will win.
In the end, I’ve got Ohio State going 11-1. Not bad for Ryan Day’s first season as coach. It’s the 2020-21 season where you can expect Ohio State to be back in serious national championship contention.