The Ohio State football team is still about 100 days from taking the field, but it is never too early to take a hard look at the Buckeyes schedule.
Instead of just listing the games and giving generic team descriptions I have ranked the Buckeye's opponents from the easiest game to the toughest.
12. New Mexico State (Oct. 31)
With the Hal Mumme era over, the addition of new head coach DeWayne Walker has brought a new attitude and a feeling that things may finally change, but the Aggies are still light years away from competing for the WAC title.
The team will go from trying to out-bomb everyone to trying to win with defense and a strong running game. Sound familiar Buckeye fans? Walker could see some success in time, but on Halloween the Aggies will have a very difficult time trying to beat the Buckeyes at their own game.
11. at Indiana (Oct. 3)
When Indiana still had Kellen Lewis—its most dynamic player—the Hoosiers were still considered by many to be the 11th best team in the Big Ten. Now that coach Bill Lynch has dismissed Lewis from the team, Indiana's doormat status seems to be all but confirmed.
The Buckeyes will make their first trip to Bloomington in several years and will almost certainly build on their current win streak against the Hoosiers. In the Jim Tressel era alone the Buckeyes are 6-0 against Indiana and have outscored the Hoosiers 221-57.
10. Toledo at Cleveland Browns Stadium (Sept. 19)
The Rockets have as much talent as any team in the MAC (including Central Michigan) and they have experience with returning starters at nearly every position. It will be up to new head coach Tim Beckman to get the talent to perform on a consistent basis, something former coach Tom Amstutz couldn't do.
Toledo will run an up-tempo spread offense that could prove to be difficult for the Buckeyes to get a handle on. But for all Toledo's talent, the Buckeyes have more and no other Ohio team has beaten the Buckeyes for nearly 100 years.
9. Navy (Sept. 5)
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo not only has best name in coaching but the Midshipmen boasted the best rushing offense in the country the last two seasons. The Buckeyes rush defense slipped last season (to 18th nationally) and will be tested early and often by the Midshipmen.
The last time the two teams met was in the 1981 Liberty Bowl where the Buckeyes held on for a 31-28 win. I suspect the Buckeyes will feed off the energy of an opening day crowd of 105,000 rabid Buckeye fans who just waited 8 long months to see their team win.
8. Wisconsin (Oct. 10)
The Badgers might be tremendously flawed and if they played like they did last season they can be beaten by anyone, but the Buckeyes and the Badgers always seem to be in close battles.
Bret Bielema gets seven starters back on offense, while the defense returns three starters in the secondary, but the Badgers have huge question marks at quarterback and on the lines.
7. at Purdue (Oct. 17)
Purdue is in a state of change. The Boilermakers must replace eight starters from an offense that didn't really do anything anyway. First year coach Danny Hope must incorporate his first recruiting class into an offense that lacks experience and depth.
But, the Purdue proved last season in Columbus that they could keep it interesting with defense. The bad news for Buckeye fans is that the Boilermakers return the entire secondary from a defense that held the Buckeyes without a touchdown in last season's meeting.
6. Minnesota (Oct. 24)
Everyone is back for coach Tim Brewster including QB Adam Weber, WR Eric Decker, and eight others on offense, as well as, nine starters on defense. The thing is the running game has become non-existent.
There was a time when Minnesota had one of the nation's most feared ground attacks, but injuries, a change in offense, and the lack of a steady back have dropped the Gophers to last in the Big Ten in rushing offense. While Weber and the passing game will be fine, there is a ceiling on what the team can do without an improved run game.
5. at Michigan (Nov. 21)
Let's face facts Buckeye fans, the winning streak is eventually going to come to an end. The Wolverines are young, but so are the Buckeyes. The Rich Rodriguez era got off to a bumpy start, but things are starting to smooth out a bit for the embattled coach. This season could be as good a time as any.
If this game was earlier in the season I would feel more secure about the Buckeyes getting their sixth straight victory, but as it stands, late November in the Big House is never easy.
4. Illinois (Sept. 26)
The Illini have as much talent at the skill positions as anyone in the conference. Juice Williams has matured into an efficient passer and a pretty good all-around playmaker and he has all his key parts back.
The knock on Ron Zook's team has been consistency and starting fast. Illinois has played the Buckeyes tough the last few seasons and has all the parts in place to challenge the Buckeyes again in the 'Shoe. Will Zook be able to get his players to perform?
3. Iowa (Nov. 14)
The offensive line that was so strong last season loses guard Seth Olsen and center Rob Bruggeman, but the tackles are back along with emerging quarterback Ricky Stanzi and top receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Replacing Shonn Greene will be difficult, but Jewel Hampton looks to fill in and should give the Hawkeyes enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.
Iowa is aiming for their first Big Ten championship since the 2002 season and by mid-November the Hawkeyes should be clicking on all cylinders. The Buckeyes will have to be on their "A" game for this one.
2. at Penn State (Nov. 7)
Darryl Clark had a great 2008, but he wasn't able to come through in the fourth quarter against Iowa and wasn't on the field for the key final drive in the win over the Buckeyes last season. Motivation for 2009?
Clark was ultra-efficient last season, but will need an even more spectacular year in 2009 when he will work behind a retooled line and have new receivers all over the field.
That being said, Beaver Stadium is one of the toughest stadiums to play in and the Penn State faithful will surely be revved up for this one.
Not to mention the fact that Sean Lee returns from his knee injury to join Josh Hull and Navarro Bowman, forming one of the nation's best linebacking corps, while the offensive backfield of Clark, Evan Royster, and Stephon Green is scary good.
1. Southern California (Sept. 12)
USC coach Pete Carroll has practically written the book about how to compete for championships in this age of parity. In fact he has. His new book, Win Forever, is coming out soon.
Still, every year fans and pundits alike wrack their brains trying to figure out how the Trojans will replace the number of stars it loses to the NFL. It can't be fun losing a Rey Maualuga or Mark Sanchez every year, but Pete Carroll always has players waiting in the wings and 2009 will be no different.
The Trojans are hardly starting from scratch. Eight starters will be missing from one of the nations top defensive units, but that only means the guys who thought they should have been starters—and are good enough to be starters at most other schools—will get their chance to break into the starting lineup.
The secondary is unbelievable, while defensive end Everson Griffen is almost unstoppable and offensively the Trojans return the entire line and a stable of running backs that are arguably the best in the nation.
USC returns enough experience to scare anyone and the Buckeyes will need to be more prepared than they were last season if they hope for a different outcome.
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