Ohio State Football: Ranking the Buckeyes' Toughest Games in 2013
Ohio State will enter the 2013 season with high expectations. That's not new for the program or its head coach Urban Meyer. But it will be the first time the program and Meyer have had those expectations together.
It's no secret the Buckeyes won't face the toughest slate of games on their march to match last season's 12-0 regular-season record. But after a year of flying under the national radar, the Buckeyes have the spotlight and all the pressure it brings right back on them.
Besides the Big Ten and national championship, Ohio State will be chasing the record books. No Buckeye football team has ever strung together more than 22 consecutive wins—not even the Archie Griffin-led teams that made four consecutive Rose Bowls.
With 10 wins to open the season, the Buckeyes can tie that record, and their game against Indiana could break it.
In judging the toughness of these games, I looked at how good I expect the Buckeyes' opponents to be, where the game is played and which teams are coming off byes. I also looked a little bit into how teams matched up in terms of style.
12. Florida A&M, September 21
Ohio State will take the risk Michigan did in 2007 by scheduling an FCS opponent. However, Florida A&M aren't the defending national champions like Appalachian State was when it shocked Michigan.
This game should amount to a tune-up for Big Ten play that will start the next week. Any health concerns can be taken care of as the Rattlers, coming off a four-win season, likely won't provide much of a fight.
The good news is this could be Ohio State's final game against an FCS opponent. The Big Ten's members have agreed to stop scheduling FCS teams in the future.
11. Buffalo, August 31
For the third consecutive season, Ohio State will open their season with a Mid-American Conference opponent. This time, however, it will not be an in-state opponent.
The Buckeyes will kick off their 2013 season by playing Buffalo for the first time in school history.
The Bulls will be led by Youngstown native Alex Zordich at QB. But even the extra boost that homecoming will give him and the team won't be enough to hang with the Buckeyes.
10. At Illinois, November 16
Illinois was bad in 2012 under first-year coach Tim Beckman.
Like, really bad. The Fighting Illini's only FBS win came in Week 1 over Western Michigan.
Illinois should be better, and healthier, in Year 2 under Beckman. But they are still likely to finish at the bottom of the Leaders division.
This game is also after a bye week for the Buckeyes. I don't expect there will be much cheering for the home team.
9. San Diego State, September 7
San Diego State might be the best team Ohio State will play outside of the conference schedule. But since the Aztecs have to travel cross-country to face the Buckeyes, I don't see them having much of a chance.
However, Adam Muema, who rushed for over 1,400 yards in 2012, could be a good test for a rebuilt front seven for Ohio State.
This one may be interesting early, but the Aztecs shouldn't be good enough to keep it close for 60 minutes.
Although that's the same thing I thought about several of the close games Ohio State played last season.
8. Penn State, October 26
Maybe I'm selling out on Penn State's competitiveness a year early, but I struggle seeing the Nittany Lions compete in 2013.
The Buckeyes were able to overcome a 7-7 tie at halftime in Happy Valley and win by almost two touchdowns. In 2013, the Buckeyes will be at home at night.
After Urban Meyer pushed so hard to get more night games, I'd be shocked to see Ohio State lose one. Especially one to a shorthanded Penn State team.
Bill O'Brien is a good coach, but there just isn't enough talent there to win in Columbus.
7. At California, September 14
A trip to California will be a whole new experience for this batch of Buckeyes. The furthest west Ohio State has played since the 2009 Rose Bowl was its game against Nebraska in 2011.
The trip, in itself, will present a few problems.
The Golden Bears offense piled up over 500 yards on Ohio State's defense in 2012. If the Buckeyes' defense doesn't come ready to play this time, the trip could make up the seven-point margin the Buckeyes won by last season.
This one could be interesting late, but the Buckeyes' high-powered offense should be able to carry them past California.
6. Indiana, November 23
Ohio State needed Corey Brown to dive on top of an on-side kick to secure a win in Bloomington last year.
Two big streaks could be on the line when the Hoosiers invade Columbus. If the Buckeyes enter the game undefeated, then they will be playing to break the school's all-time winning streak record.
A win for the Hoosiers would snap a 20-game winless streak against the Buckeyes. The last win for Indiana in the series came in 1988.
The young Hoosiers came close last year, falling 52-49.
Could another year put them over the top, or did last year's close call wake up Ohio State and secure a beatdown in 2013?
5. Iowa, October 19
Ohio State and Iowa haven't played since 2010, and Iowa hasn't beaten the Buckeyes since 2004.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a disappointing season and aren't supposed to be a top-25 team. But that seems to be the way Kirk Ferentz likes it. His Hawkeyes seem to have better seasons when less is expected of them.
Both teams will be coming off a bye, which should mean both teams will be well prepared. A disciplined defense like Iowa's with extra time to prepare could spell problems for Ohio State.
But the Hawkeyes' offense doesn't look like it will score much, so the Buckeyes should be alright.
4. At Purdue, November 2
If I were ranking Ohio State's opponents in terms of talent, Purdue would likely be much closer to the bottom.
But there has just been something about the Boilermakers that has given the Buckeyes problems. Since 2000, Ohio State is 7-4 against Purdue, but three of those Ohio State wins could have just as easily been losses.
Even worse, the Buckeyes are just 2-4 in West Lafayette, with the original "Holy Buckeye" keeping them from a 1-5 record.
Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant coach, is now the head coach at Purdue. Can he maintain Purdue's stellar home record in this series?
3. Wisconsin, September 28
Ohio State will open its Big Ten schedule in what could be the Leaders Division's biggest game.
The Buckeyes squeaked out a win in Madison last season. But it will be a new Wisconsin team that comes to Columbus.
Gary Andersen is now the head coach of the Badgers and will no longer have the services of Montee Ball. But, as always, the Badgers will have a handful of talented backs to run behind their big offensive line. This game will be the biggest test for the new defensive line of the Buckeyes.
This will also be a big test for the Ohio State offense that struggled against a stiff Badger defense last season. Even if the Buckeyes cruise through their non-conference schedule, this will be the game that really shows everyone how good the 2013 Buckeyes are.
2. At Northwestern, October 5
It's been a while since the Buckeyes and the Wildcats met on the gridiron. In the four seasons since the programs' last meeting, Pat Fitzgerald has built Northwestern into a legitimate contender for the Big Ten crown.
The Wildcats are the only team in the conference coming off a 10-win season and a bowl win.
Northwestern will be coming off a bye week for its night game against Ohio State. Both teams could—probably should—be undefeated entering this contest.
It will be a great matchup between two of the best running tandems in the country. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde combined for 2,241 yards and 29 TDs in 2012, while Kain Colter and Venric Marc combined for 2,260 yards and 24 TDs on the ground.
1. At Michigan, November 30
This is probably the most anticipated game of the season for both programs no matter what. But in 2013, these two are supposed to be the two best in the conference.
If all goes according to plan, Michigan will be playing to spoil Ohio State's national title hopes and in the process lock up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Ohio State will be looking to cap off another 12-0 regular season.
Things don't always go according to plan. But if the recruiting rankings of the past three years mean anything, which is arguable, these two programs are the cream of the crop.
Don't be shocked if this game is just for bragging rights and the two teams meet again the next week in the Big Ten Championship Game for all the marbles.