Power Ranking the Buckeyes' 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest
Ohio State's road to its first national championship since 2002 and its first (non-vacated) Big Ten title since 2009 will bring different challenges every week, some easier than others. The Buckeyes, much like most other powerhouses in the game, will have "easy" games as well as big-time matchups with powerhouses.
In a 12-game schedule, there's an ebb and flow with how tough the games get, with the toughest usually being at the end of the season. But who presents the biggest challenges for the Buckeyes in 2013?
Here is a ranking of the Buckeyes' opponents from weakest to toughest on the schedule.
12. Florida A&M, Sept. 21
The Buckeyes' last game before Big Ten play starts is against their first FCS opponent in five years. Florida A&M struggled last season, going 4-7, and was blown out by Oklahoma on the road 69-13.
This is the type of game where OSU's second-string will likely get a lot of playing time in the second half.
11. Buffalo. Aug. 31
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For the third straight year, Ohio State opens its schedule with a MAC opponent, with the Buffalo Bulls being their opponent this time around.
Buffalo struggled in 2012, going just 4-8, including a 1-7 start, and only scored more than 30 points once all season. The Bulls return 1,000-yard receiver Alex Neutz this year, but it will take all sorts of bad things to happen for the Buckeyes to lose a home opener against a 4-8 MAC team.
10. At Illinois, Nov. 16
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Illinois struggled mightily in its first season under Tim Beckman in 2012, going winless against conference opponents, including a 52-22 blowout in favor of OSU.
Not much went the Illini's way in 2012, scoring a meager 16.7 points per game and giving up nearly twice as many on defense.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase is back for his senior season, and the Illini should improve after a year in Beckman's system. But if the Buckeyes are in contention for a division title, which they are expected to be, they may make short work of the Illini.
9. Indiana, Nov. 23
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Under Kevin Wilson, Indiana has been a pest to the Buckeyes each of the past two seasons, playing OSU close and putting up good offensive numbers.
Yet the wins just aren't there, and the Hoosiers don't have the defense that can slow down Ohio State's offense, especially in the Horseshoe. The Hoosiers will get their points, as they hit the 30-point plateau in half of their games last year. But their defense still allowed more than 35 points per game, which isn't going to scare a lot of teams.
OSU won't blank the Hoosiers, but it should be able to outscore them pretty well on its home turf.
8. Iowa, Oct. 19
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It's easy to forget that Iowa won a BCS bowl just four years ago, knocking off Georgia Tech in the 2009 FedEx Orange Bowl.
Since then, it's been a downhill slope for the Hawkeyes after a 4-8 season in 2012.
Kirk Ferentz's seat may be getting hotter, especially breaking in a new quarterback from a group that has never taken a snap against FBS competition.
The Hawkeyes had given Jim Tressel's Buckeyes fits in the past, but Urban Meyer's crew may be a different story. An upset in the Horseshoe for Iowa just doesn't seem too likely.
7. At Purdue, Nov. 2
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The rebuild begins in Purdue, as former OSU assistant Darrell Hazell is the new man in charge of the Boilermakers after a great job at Kent State.
Hazell has some work to do on a team that finished 6-7 a year ago. His style of offense from KSU is also very different from what the Boilermakers have done in the past with Joe Tiller and, more recently, Danny Hope.
There may be a bit of a transition period, but Hazell and Purdue will rely on how much of an issue the Boilermakers have been to the Buckeyes. OSU hasn't won in West Lafayette since 2007.
Purdue knows how to give the Buckeyes fits, but ultimately, OSU should prevail against one of its former coaches.
6. San Diego State, Sept. 7
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San Diego State has proven in the past few years that it is far from a typical mid-major football team, after a very strong 9-4 record in 2012.
The Aztecs bring back talented running back Adam Muema, who rushed for just under 1,500 yards a year ago as well as QB Adam Dingwell, who took the starting job late in the year and won five straight starts to end the regular season.
SDSU looks to be a very solid team and should be a very good early test for the Buckeyes. It won't be a surprise if the margin of victory is in single digits.
5. Penn State, Oct. 26
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Penn State and Ohio State have had quite a few good games since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. And their showdown on Oct. 26 in Columbus should be no different.
The Nittany Lions will come into Columbus with a different quarterback than in the past two years, with highly touted freshman Christian Hackenberg calling the signals.
Bill O'Brien did a fantastic job in his first year in Happy Valley, but his job could get tougher, as the heavy sanctions on the program may hurt the program more and more each year.
This game should be close most of the way, though OSU could be able to pull away late as it did last year in the Buckeyes' 35-23 win at Penn State.
4. At California, Sept. 14
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The Buckeyes will be going out to the West Coast this season when they meet Cal and new coach Sonny Dykes in Week 3 of the season.
The Bears and Buckeyes played a thriller in Columbus a year ago, with the Buckeyes winning 35-28.
Cal loses starting QB Zach Maynard and top WR Keenan Allen but has plenty of young talent in tow, and Dykes could make the Bears into a high-octane offense as he did at Louisiana Tech.
That offensive potential combined with the long road trip could give the Buckeyes some problems once again as the Bears did a year ago.
3. At Northwestern. Oct. 5
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Much has changed since the Wildcats and Buckeyes last met in 2008, as Pat Fitzgerald has turned Northwestern into a Big Ten championship contender.
The Wildcats won their first bowl game since 1949 last year and return most of that team back, including the one-two QB combo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, as well as speedster Venric Mark.
If you love offense, this matchup should satisfy, as both high-powered offenses return a combined 17 starters.
OSU's defense should be more locked in by this point in the season and should make just enough stops for the Buckeyes to escape Evanston with a win.
2. Wisconsin, Sept. 28
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For all intents and purposes, this is the Leaders Division Championship Game, and it comes in the Buckeyes' Big Ten opener under the lights.
These two teams have had quite a few incredible games in the past decade, but Wisconsin will have a bit of transition to go through as it graduates TD machine Montee Ball and brings in former Utah State coach Gary Andersen. He is a defensive-minded coach who loves to run the football as evidenced by his teams at USU. So he should it fit in very well and be successful at Wisconsin.
His first Big Ten test is a massive one, and the Buckeyes' home crowd combined with an added jolt of playing in prime time could be too much for the Badgers to overcome.
1. At Michigan, Nov. 30
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OSU's toughest game this year couldn't be against anyone but its biggest rival, as Michigan continues to build back to its old self under Brady Hoke.
QB Devin Gardner returns after a solid finish to the season a year ago, and he will be aided by a healthy Fitzgerald Toussaint and an improving Wolverine defense. The Big House is a tough challenge for any opponent, but the intensity goes up several levels when the Buckeyes come up to Ann Arbor.
It's a tough game, it's a physical game, it's a nasty game. And these two teams wouldn't want it any other way.
Whoever wins this game will have earned it, as the Buckeyes and Wolverines have put together two straight entertaining games and have reinvigorated what is arguably college football's biggest rivalry.
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