Ohio State's 2020 schedule looks easier on paper than the one it had to navigate in 2019.
Last fall, the Buckeyes blitzed their way through a tough slate, going 13-0 with an average margin of victory of 33 points (which led the country) while beating five ranked teams on their way to the College Football Playoff.
It was an impressive opening act to Ryan Day's head coaching career, and the followup looks like it could be something special.
Today we're looking at the 2020 football schedule as if it were a four-quarter football game, with three matchups coming in each quarter. Fittingly, each stretch presents both a legitimate obstacle and what appear to be a gimme or two.
Let's break it down.
The First Quarter
|September 5||Bowling Green||OSU 77, BG 10 (2016)|
|September 12||@ Oregon||OSU 42, OREG 20 (2015)|
|September 19||Buffalo||OSU 40, BUF 20 (2013)|
After a two-year break, Ohio State is returning to its strategy of taking on one elite opponent (via a home-and-home setup) to complement two lower-tier matchups for the non-conference lineup.
The Buckeyes have been doing this for years. In the past, Ohio State has hosted and then traveled to programs like Texas, USC, Miami, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma early in the season. In future years, there will be similar series' against Notre Dame, Washington, Texas again and Georgia.
But this fall, that marquee opponent comes in Week 2 when the Buckeyes travel to face Oregon.
Ohio State hasn't faced an out-of-conference opponent on the road since it traveled to Oklahoma in 2016. The Buckeyes played TCU on a neutral site in 2017 and Cincinnati was the top out-of-league opponent a season ago.
But that Week 2 matchup could pin two top-10 opponents against each other.
Strongly regretting only putting Oregon at No. 9 my way-too-early Top 25 for 2020.— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) January 15, 2020
With Moorhead on board, I might talk myself into picking the Ducks to end the Pac-12 Playoff drought.
We've got a long offseason ahead, folks.
MAC opponents Bowling Green and Buffalo round out the non-conference slate.
The Second Quarter
|September 26||Rutgers||OSU 56, RUT 21 (2019)|
|October 10||Iowa||OSU 24, IOWA 55 (2017)|
|October 17||@ Michigan State||OSU 34, MSU 10 (2019)|
The Buckeyes get a soft opening to Big Ten play when it hosts Greg Schiano and Rutgers, which hasn't won a conference game since beating Maryland in November of 2017.
Schiano proved he can build the Scarlet Knights program into a moderate winner in the mid-Aughts, but he's years from becoming even remotely competitive in the Big Ten. In the last five meetings in this series, Ohio State has won each by an average of 48 points.
Things get dicier after a well-timed bye week. Ohio State plays host to Iowa on October 10 — the first meeting between the two since the staggering 55-24 upset in Iowa City. A week later, the Buckeyes hit the road for a matchup against a Michigan State team in transition under new head coach Mel Tucker.
It's a tough close to the first half of the schedule, leading up to what will likely be the stiffest challenge of the season.
The Third Quarter
|October 24||@ Penn State||OSU 28, PSU 17 (2019)|
|October 31||Nebraska||OSU 48, NEB 7 (2019)|
|November 7||Indiana||OSU 51, IND 10 (2019)|
Penn State took a big step forward when James Franklin took over in 2014, and in three of the last four seasons, the program has reached the 11-win mark.
There haven't been many blowouts between Ohio State and Penn State during Franklin's time there. The Buckeyes won a double-overtime thriller in '14, then cruised to a 38-10 win in '15. But over the last four seasons, the games have been nail-biters. Ohio State only outscored Penn State by 10 points combined, winning three of four.
Fox's television contract with the Big Ten might save Ohio State from having to play under the lights in Beaver Stadium. The network's push to dominate the noon time slot is the reason Ohio State played so many of its marquee games at noon a season ago, and it will likely take that advantage away from Penn State this fall.
Following that matchup, Ohio State comes home for a halloween matchup against Nebraska before hosting Indiana.
The Fourth Quarter
|NOVEMBER 14||@ Maryland||OSU 73, MD 13 (2019)|
|NOVEMBER 21||@ Illinois||OSU 52, Ill 14 (2017)|
|NOVEMBER 28||Michigan||OSU 56, UM 27 (2019)|
The Buckeyes caught a break to close out the season.
In year's past, the Big Ten maddeningly stacked the backend of Ohio State's schedule with a big-time opponent in the week leading up to the Michigan game. In 2015-16, the Buckeyes had to take on Michigan State the week before playing the Wolverines. Last year it was Penn State.
This fall, Ohio State has travel in back-to-back weeks before hosting Michigan, but that's for matchups against Maryland and Illinois. The Terrapins haven't beaten the Buckeyes in their six chances since joining the Big Ten, and the Illini haven't claimed a victory since Juice Williams sealed one of the upsets of the year back in 2007.
But this stretch, and the season in large, will be defined by the Michigan game, just like it always will be.