Road to The Chase Bumpier in 2014

By Michael Citro on January 9, 2014 at 2:15p
Navy coming to chop all the D-line's knees, y'all.

Ohio State took a lot of grief for a soft 2013 schedule, despite the fact that the team played six bowl teams prior to its own trip to the Orange Bowl. But let’s face it, 2013 gave us a weak schedule by OSU standards.  Thanks a lot, California.

The pundits used that weak schedule — which included a home game against FCS Florida A&M — to hammer the Buckeyes time after time throughout the year. Week after week we heard the stories about the myriad of teams with losses that should jump undefeated Ohio State in the polls.

At the time we thought the good guys were just about as good as anyone in the country, but the soft schedule mostly hid a deficient defense that completely blew up over the last three games.

The narrative may have to change in 2014.

While Ohio State breaks in four new starting offensive linemen and three new starters in the defensive secondary, the road to The Chase (or whatever they call it next year) will be a bit bumpier. Eight of next year's 12 opponents are coming off bowl seasons, and another, Penn State, would have been if not for its NCAA-mandated bowl ban.

It all starts with a rare opening game away from the Horseshoe on Aug. 30 against Navy. The matchup will take place in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. The Midshipmen aren’t a national power, but Navy is generally a solid team that usually finds its way into a bowl game at year’s end. Another thing that makes the Naval Academy a tough out is that it’s hard to prepare for their offense.

Defenders have to get used to getting chopped at the knees by opposing linemen, which can throw a player off his game or make him think about his health more than his assignment. Navy usually executes very well on offense, making them a pain in the neck to stop. Typically, their defense isn’t quite on par with their offense, so good teams often simply outscore them if they have difficulty stopping their attack.

It's a game that could set the tone for the entire season, so it's vital for Ohio State to get that one right. It will likely be more problematic than it was to face Buffalo at home.

The marquee non-conference game happens a week later in Ohio Stadium, when Virginia Tech comes to town. The Hokies have been a bit up and down in recent years, but they always have a solid defense and they play hard. Virginia Tech is usually ranked fairly high in the polls early in the season. This will be a fun one, but it probably won't be very easy, despite the fact that Tech is coming off an 8-5 season and total destruction in the Sun Bowl at the hands of UCLA.

After what may be somewhat of a breather against MAC snack Kent State on Sept. 13, the Buckeyes welcome in-state Cincinnati to the Shoe. The Bearcats rebounded from an early season beatdown at the hands of Illinois to win eight of their next nine games, before dropping a heartbreaker in overtime at No. 19 Louisville. That run included a 52-17 drubbing of Ohio State’s sixth 2014 opponent, Rutgers. But then they got demolished by North Carolina in the Belk Bowl.

Beamer brings the Hokies to Columbus in 2014.Beamer Ball provides an upgrade to the schedule in 2014.

Tommy Tuberville’s Cincinnati squad (man, that still sounds weird) won’t make things easy for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State travels back to Maryland on Oct. 4 for a date with new Big Ten foe…well, Maryland, in College Park. The Terps are coming off a 7-6 bowl season, finishing off their stint in the ACC with a Military Bowl loss to Marshall.

After that, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers make it two straight B1G newbies in a row on Oct. 18, after a bye week. Rutgers finished 6-7 in 2013 after their loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Then things get a little more difficult.

A trip to Happy Valley on Oct. 25 kicks off the stretch run. Penn State currently has no coach, so it’s difficult to know what to expect, other than a hostile environment.  If it turns out to be James Franklin, as expected, it could be a pretty tough win.

An improving Illinois team then comes to the Shoe on Nov. 1. The Illini scored 35 points against the Buckeyes this season, destroyed Cincinnati, and put up a pretty good fight against a decent Washington team. Tim Beckman may have them on the right path.

Then things get a little more dicey.

The Buckeyes travel to defending league champ Michigan State on Nov. 8, then visit Minnesota on Nov. 15. Sparty is feeling pretty good about itself after its B1G title game victory over the Buckeyes and its Rose Bowl win. Facing the Spartans on the road with a new offensive line seems a bit daunting. This may be the game that ultimately decides the East Division.

Jerry Kill’s Minnesota Golden Gophers are vastly improved, finishing 8-5 last year after a narrow loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. A mid-November game in Minneapolis will likely affect the passing game of Braxton Miller (or whoever replaces him if he goes pro) and it could be a low-scoring affair, with Kill’s improved defense.

The Buckeyes return home on Nov. 22 to host Indiana, a week before The Game, which also takes place in Columbus in 2014. Devin Gardner will hopefully not have the same level of success next year, but this rivalry has become a lot more even under Brady Hoke than it was under Rich Rodriguez or the final years of the Lloyd Carr era. And Michigan has upgraded to an offensive coordinator who is actually competent.

The basic toughening of the schedule comes down to:

  • Swapping Florida A&M for Kent State as the weakest non-conference opponent.
  • Trading up from Cal to Virginia Tech as the marquee pre-conference game.
  • Cincinnati being an upgrade over San Diego State.
  • Rutgers and Maryland essentially replacing Northwestern and Purdue. Both newbies went to bowls in 2013, whereas the Wildcats and Boilermakers did not.
  • Losing Wisconsin, which would generally hurt schedule strength, but adding Michigan State. That makes things a wee bit tougher, especially since it’s on the road.
  • Replacing six bowl teams with eight that reached the postseason exhibition games in 2013 and another that would have, if not for sanctions.

So 2014 will bring a pretty solid schedule, both within the Big Ten and out of conference. If the Buckeyes go on another run, you (probably) won't hear so many “should [team x] jump Ohio State?” discussions next season. Then again, that undefeated run will be more difficult to come by.


Comments Show All Comments

AngryWoody's picture

I like that we play our toughest teams later in the schedule. College football is really subjective, and putting your best games last helps because they will be fresher in the minds of the playoff committee. This year we played NW and Wisconsin really early in the year and I think it hurt us a lot in the human polls. I also like playing the easy teams earlier because it gives us time to break in the new guys before we hit our best competition.

Our Honor Defend!

703Buckeye's picture

I'm pretty excited for next years schedule, not only is it more challenging, it features quite a few new big and interesting names. Two visits to the Old Line State also makes it super convenient for me to see the Bucks twice this year; I'll be at both the Navy and Maryland games.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

Go1Bucks's picture

The potential for another undefeated season...  gotta like that.  Glad schedule is an improvement, still wish we had one tougher NC game, but its all preseason anyway.
Still think next year will hinge on who is hired as DC, actually using better uptempo game plans (although without Kenny G to implement them, may not be as important), and Brax getting his head outta his ass.
Can't wait til next year, looking forward to signing day and recruit news til then and on to basketball, yeah!
Go Bucks!

Go Bucks!

allinosu's picture

They haven't said they were hiring a DC.

Go1Bucks's picture

yes they did, and are.

Go Bucks!

ScoobyKnows's picture

Yes, this schedule is much improved over this past year.  I still feel very optimistic that the Bucks can run the table.  Just have to get that coaching vacancy filled with the right man (whoever Urban decides that will be). 

dubjayfootball90's picture

I am ready for some football!!!

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

Thomas's picture

Is it August yet?

Ebvine96's picture

How is Va Tech supposed to be next year?

lax20's picture

Never underestimate Frank Beamer at Tech.  This team allowed Alabama just over 200 yards of offense in their game this year.  They lost to the Tide by 21, but 3 scores were by defense and special teams.  Logan Thomas the quarterback the past 3 years is gone and probably all Tech fans are saying thank god.  It should be a good game, but don't expect alot of points being scored.

SaltyD0gg's picture

You mean 2 loss Alabama?

Pain of Discipline

Pain of Regret

Take Your Pick

kareemabduljacobb's picture

Those D/special teams scores played into them giving up only that many yards to Bama.

avail31678's picture

True, but Bama's O-line was pretty bad early in the year.

703Buckeye's picture

Their offense will be a work in progress... the Hokies are bringing back 8 starters but have to replace their QB. They were ranked 98th in total offense last year and I don't see it being much better in 2014.
The Hokie D should be pretty good. Though they're losing 7 starters, VT has a habit or rolling out very good defenses every year.
I think they'll be better than their 7-6 2013 campaign but they're going to have a hard time coming into Ohio Stadium as their first road game of the year with an inexperienced QB and young D. VT will look a lot better for the Buckeyes schedule at the end of the year than they will at the beginning.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

Hovenaut's picture

Healthier, at the least. They lost people left and right this past season.
Interesting look back at their season, via the Roanoke Times. I'm looking right at point number three.

Buckabroad's picture

That was a pretty good article. Thanks for posting HOVENAUT. If Miller stays, I agree that point 3 could make the game very interesting indeed.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

Hovenaut's picture

Tech will be a little more stout on defense, but I still like what UCLA's Brett Hundley did to them in the Sun Bowl:

lax20's picture

The non-conference games are a major upgrade from this past year.  None of those games will be a cake walk.  The Buckeyes have such a name brand reputation that they get most everybody's A game.

703Buckeye's picture

If Kent State isn't a cake walk, I will be concerned.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

mc22's picture

Better schedule but it's what we love and fret about college football - more than one loss ( if you are a big ten team that is) - and 99% of the time it will mean no playoffs.

TilstheHun3's picture

This team should not in any way, shape, or form have more than 1 loss. Though it is not easy to win all of your games, this team really shouldn't have even 1 loss. I know that 'paper' doesn't necessarily translate to the field, but on paper, this team is more talented than anyone they go up against in the 'regular season.' I think this team has a good shot of making the playoffs, though I think even 1 loss would be enough to knock them out. Hoping for another great run with an even better finish!

What is this? A center for ants?!? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?

OSUFlash's picture

Kent State without Dri Archer is less than average.
Right now I say a 10-2 season appears to be pretty realistic. As of now I saw we lose at MSU and one other Big 10 team.


kareemabduljacobb's picture

I like it the tougher schedule, will prepare us better for things to come later on in the year (if we're to make the playoff) then only 2 years until our Home and Home series with Oklahoma which I can't wait for!  Our 2016 schedule is going to be pretty tough... @Oklahoma, @ Wisky, @PSU, @ Wisky @Maryland (they should be an 8-4 type team by this time, maybe), with NW, NEB, Rutgers(who should at least be a consistant bowl threat) and tsun at home. 

BoFuquel's picture

The Buckeyes are expected to run the table. One loss = no playoffs, It's that simple,just like every other year it's MNC or bust. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

lippertini's picture

One-loss Michigan State was 4th in the BCS (including both human polls) heading into the bowls, so def could happen.

ibuck's picture

It's not just the defense that needs to improve. The offense does too: particularly in passing. We all got excited by the O in preseason because they were shredding the D in practices. Now we know why.

Sure the O set new season records, and our weak schedule was a big part of the reason. Just look at the 3rd down conversion rate in both losses: 5/15 vs MSU and 2/13 vs Clemson (and only 3/8 vs TTUN). The play-calling and execution were both at issue.  Pass plays need to be called that are 7-8 yards, or beyond the marker. That's scheme. And whoever is at QB needs to be aware of the pocket closing in and toss the ball away when appropriate. That's execution. The sacks, often 7 yards or more, kill drives and need to be minimized.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.


The Buckeyes beat VaTech and play well on the road at Penn State they'll be unbeaten going into the Sparty game on Nov. 8. That will be the season right there. Win and its a playoff berth with the improved strength of schedule. Lose? Ugh. I'm still not over this season's losses yet.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Bucksfan's picture

the road to The Chase (or whatever they call it next year)

I don't think that word means what they think it means.

jamesrbrown322's picture

Hello, my name is Joey Bosa...prepare to die.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

AJBor41's picture

Nice to see Navy is 122nd in the country in passing offense... Phew!

RoyWalley's picture

How come Navy is a "solid" team when we play them, but a "weak or sorry" opponent when Notre Dame plays them.
During World War II, the Navy single-handedly rescued Notre Dame; decades later, they are still grateful.
ND still plays Navy because Notre Dame nearly ran out of students and money (both of which are kind of important to a school), we asked the Navy to save our bacon, and they swooped in with thousands of naval students and kept the place from ignobly fizzling out of existence.

USMC11917's picture

the soft schedule mostly hid a deficient defense that completely blew up over the last three games.

I disagree. Nothing was hidden by the schedule. It was plain and obvious to see by many. The W-L column is more responsible for hiding our defenses performance than the schedule.

kcbrez's picture

I've lamented that the Buckeyes never visit my area of the country (the Washington, D.C. area) for years. That ends this year though, as I'll be in attendance at 3 of the first five games of the season. Wahoo!

andyb's picture

Devin Gardner will hopefully not have the same level of success next year, but this rivalry has become a lot more even under Brady Hoke than it was under Rich Rodriguez or the final years of the Lloyd Carr era.

To me, that has a lot more to do with Ohio State than it does with Michigan. Instead of improving and dominating them we are regressing down to their level (defensively anyway).

nm_buck's picture

The game at E Lansing will determine whether we make the playoff.  That game will determine who represents the East in the B1G Championship.  We don't make the Championship, it's the Outback Bowl, and we are watching the playoffs from home.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

Condor's picture

Until the B1G improves in nonconference and bowl play the Buck's schedule will never get national respects.

"Do not fear me gypsy, all I want is your tears."

 -- Borat Sagdiyev


FROMTHE18's picture

Navy will be the most difficult match up to prepare for and with tackling being one of our biggest issues on defense, we will need to remedy that if we are to slow down that option attack thatll have a 3rd year starter running it. Our DL should be able to be fine but we cant afford to miss tackles at the LB spot, nor be undisciplined in run support with the DBs. The good news: they pass very, very little. 
Va Tech will be interesting but I think they are rebuilding still and unless we tank on offense it should be a relatively easy win by a few scores
UC is a pain in the ass for some reason and will be a tough game as this will be their 'super bowl' for the year. Tuberville is a good coach too so I think itll be closer than we'd like.
Kent State. Well, I expect us to beat them handedly. 
4-0 in OOC is what I expect and I think we look impressive during those games. Navy might be the closest game as they run a ton of clock. 
Toughest game of the year is an obvious one, at Michigan State. As of right now I have that as a loss but a lot can change. Penn State wont be a walk over and of course theres always Michigan. 
11-1 regular season is the most likely outcome IMO. Wouldnt be surprised with another loss (or two, but thats if we really really struggle on defense again). BUT, also wouldnt be shocked if OSU goes undefeated. I like our chances at a great season, and if we drastically improve on defense we could be a relative darkhorse for the national title. 

MichaelJ721984's picture

Christ, Gardner has been at Michigan longer than I've been alive it seems lol  Bum

Michigan sucks.

3-yrds_and_a_CLOUD's picture

That is a pretty tough schedule, and MSU will be the big test for next year's team. I know they are going to be stacked on offense with Connor Cook back and probably improved, but with 3 lineman leaving. I know they lose their two best on the defensive side in Bullough and Dennard, but do they have any other big names to replace them? I think the offense will be about the same, but will their defense be any where near as dominant next year?

“Success is the inner satisfaction and peace of mind that come from knowing I did the best I was capable of doing for the group.”
- Jim Tressel