November is for closers.
A fast start is critical to a championship run, of course, but the real conference and playoff contenders show up in the final month of the regular season. And for Ohio State, that means it needs to be at its best against two of the toughest opponents on its schedule.
Similar to 2015-16 when the Buckeyes had to close with Michigan State and Michigan, they got another tough draw from the scheduling gods this fall. They have a well-placed bye week the first Saturday of November before tuneups against Maryland and Rutgers.
Then Ohio State plays host to Penn State a week before hitting the road north to Ann Arbor for the season finale against Michigan.
It's a tough close for a team hoping to put a playoff run together, particularly compared to SEC contenders (Alabama's second-to-last opponent is FCS member Western Carolina and Auburn has Samford on the docket).
And despite Michigan being Ohio State's chief rival, Penn State has been the stiffer challenge the last two seasons.
After the Nittany Lions handed the Buckeyes their only regular season loss in 2016, the two teams crafted masterpieces in following matchups. In '17, quarterback J.T. Barrett turned in the performance of his career, completing 13 consecutive passes (and three touchdowns) in the fourth quarter alone to erase an 18-point deficit and seal a 39-38 win.
Last September it was Dwayne Haskins' turn to break Penn State's heart. The Buckeyes trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before Haskins orchestrated two clutch touchdown drives that led to a 27-26 victory.
That two-year run certainly put a sour taste in the mouth of James Franklin's squad, and it's safe to assume they have their date with Ohio State circled on the schedule.
And that's a tough break for the Buckeyes, because they historically haven't been at their best the week leading up to the Michigan game.
Last year, they needed all 60 minutes and an overtime period to escape a Maryland team that didn't break .500. They split the Michigan State games in 2015-16, losing the first 17-14 (which ultimately ended their playoff run) and won the following year 17-16.
When they won the title in 2014, they won a 42-27 matchup against Indiana that was way closer than the score would indicate.
Getting Ohio State ready for that two-game stretch at the end of November will be one of Ryan Day's toughest challenges in his first year as a head coach.