2023 Season Preview: Ranking Ohio State’s 12 Regular-Season Games from Easiest to Most Difficult

By Dan Hope on August 18, 2023 at 8:35 am
TreVeyon Henderson vs. Michigan in 2021

Ohio State’s 2023 regular-season schedule has the makings of one of its most challenging schedules in recent history.

For one, the Buckeyes will play only six home games this year, marking the first time since 1895 – no, that’s not a typo – that Ohio State will play six true road games in the same season. The Buckeyes’ conference schedule includes the three teams expected to be their top competition for the Big Ten title – Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin – while they also have a marquee non-conference road game against Notre Dame.

Ohio State will be a clear favorite to win each of its other eight regular-season games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential pitfalls elsewhere on the schedule.

With that in mind, we surveyed the Eleven Warriors staff with a simple query: Rank Ohio State’s 12 games in order from the game you’re most confident the Buckeyes will win to the one you’re most concerned about the Buckeyes losing – or, in other words, the game you’d bet the most money on the Buckeyes winning straight up to the game you’d bet the least money on Ohio State winning outright. 

Ten staffers participated in the voting, and we averaged out the rankings on each of their 10 ballots to develop our overall confidence rankings for the Buckeyes’ 2023 schedule.

We also posed the same question to members of our message-board community to get a feel for which games Ohio State fans are most and least nervous about entering the season, and their rankings are compared against the staff’s rankings at the bottom of the article.

1. Youngstown State (Sept. 9, Home)

Average Ranking: 1
High Rank: 1
Low Rank: 1

Ohio State won 76-0 the last time it played an FCS opponent (Florida A&M in 2013). There’s no excuse for the Buckeyes not to dominate this game from start to finish, and everyone on our staff agrees that beating the Penguins will be the easiest win of the year.

2. Rutgers (Nov. 4, Away)

Average Ranking: 3.1
High Rank: 2
Low Rank: 4

Rutgers hasn’t come close to beating Ohio State in any of the nine meetings since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten, and we don’t expect that to change this year. The Scarlet Knights are coming off their eighth consecutive losing season. While Greg Schiano has brought some talent to Rutgers since returning to Piscataway, there’s still a considerable gap between the Scarlet Knights’ roster and the Buckeyes’ roster.

2. Western Kentucky (Sept. 16, Home)

Average Ranking: 3.1
High Rank: 2
Low Rank: 6

Even though this is a buy game against a Group of 5 school, it might not be as much of a cakewalk as the Youngstown State game should be. At the least, it will be the first big test of the year for Ohio State’s pass defense. Western Kentucky led the entire FBS with 4,929 passing yards last season, and quarterback Austin Reed is back this year along with Malachi Corley, the leader in receiving yards among all returning FBS receivers.

Nine of our 10 voters still ranked Western Kentucky as one of the four easiest wins of the season, with half of our voters listing the Hilltoppers as the second-easiest opponent, but Johnny Ginter – who recently co-hosted an episode of the Eleven Dubcast in which they made the case for Western Kentucky being a quietly dangerous game – put the Hilltoppers sixth.

4. Indiana (Sept. 2, Away)

Average Ranking: 3.5
High Rank: 2
Low Rank: 7

Ohio State has won 28 straight games against Indiana, and most of our staff expects the Buckeyes to have no problem making that 29. Four of our 10 voters ranked the season opener behind only Youngstown State as the second-easiest win of the year, while all but two voters put the Hoosiers in the top four.

Wins haven’t always come easy when the Buckeyes have opened their season with a conference game on the road, however; the Buckeyes have trailed at halftime the last two times they’ve done that (Minnesota in 2021 and Indiana in 2017) before ultimately going on to win. With that in mind, as well as the uncertainty Ohio State will enter the season with at quarterback and on the offensive line, Matt Gutridge ranked the season opener as only his seventh-most confident win.

5. Michigan State (Nov. 11, Home)

Average Ranking: 5.7
High: 5
Low: 8

The entire staff agreed that Michigan State belonged in the middle tier of our confidence rankings, with everyone ranking the Spartans between their fifth-most confident win and eighth-most confident win.

It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan State was one of the most feared annual opponents on the schedule, as the Spartans went 3-2 against the Buckeyes from 2011-15. Still, Ohio State has beaten MSU seven straight times since, with the last three victories coming in blowout fashion. OSU will also have the advantage of what should be one of its best home environments of the season as the Buckeyes host the Spartans in a primetime “Gray Out" with the team wearing alternate uniforms.

6. Minnesota (Nov. 18, Home)

Average Ranking: 6.1
High: 5
Low: 8

Like Michigan State, the entire staff agreed that Minnesota would not be one of the four easiest teams to beat but that it also wouldn’t be one of the four toughest.

The Golden Gophers have enough weapons on both sides of the ball to be a contender in the Big Ten West, and the penultimate week of the regular season always comes with the threat of the Buckeyes getting caught looking ahead to The Game. But Ohio State has won 12 straight games against Minnesota dating back to 2001, and the Buckeyes will surely want to put their best foot forward on Senior Day in their final home game of the year.

7. Maryland (Oct. 7, Home)

Average Ranking: 6.8
High: 3
Low: 8

Maryland has never played well against Ohio State in Columbus, losing its four previous games against the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium by an average of more than 44 points, which Matt cited as his reasoning for picking the Buckeyes’ homecoming game as his third-most confident win of the year. Ohio State will also have the benefit of an extra week to prepare for this game, as the Buckeyes will be coming off a bye week (which Maryland will not be).

Even so, the majority of our staff put this game in the bottom half of our confidence rankings, with seven of 10 voters ranking this game either seventh or eighth. The Terps gave the Buckeyes a bit of a scare last season in College Park, where Ohio State led by only one score for most of the fourth quarter before winning 43-30, and they should have one of the Big Ten’s better offenses once again with Taulia Tagovailoa back for his fourth year as Maryland’s starting quarterback.

8. Purdue (Oct. 14, Away)

Average Ranking: 7
High Rank: 4
Low Rank: 10

Purdue was the only opponent to make the top four of at least one staffer’s confidence ranking and also land in the bottom four of at least one staffer’s confidence ranking, as Johnny ranked Purdue as his fourth-most confident win while Ramzy Nasrallah (ninth) and Jacob Rhee (10th) both slotted the Boilermakers as one of their four least confident victories.

On paper, Purdue should rank as one of the easier opponents for Ohio State this season, with a roster that ranks on the lower end of the Big Ten in terms of overall talent and a first-year head coach in Ryan Walters. But Buckeye fans need no reminder of what happened last time Ohio State went to West Lafayette, and given that Ohio State has lost three of its last four trips there, there’s reason to have at least a little trepidation about playing the “Spoilermakers” on the road.

9. Notre Dame (Sept. 23, Away)

Average Ranking: 9.6
High Rank: 8
Low Rank: 11

While the first eight games in this countdown are all games that Ohio State will be heavily favored to win, the bottom four games are the contests that will truly make or break the Buckeyes’ season. The first of those four games on the schedule, and in our confidence rankings, comes when Ohio State plays Notre Dame on the road in its final game of September.

After a defensive slugfest in Columbus last year, Notre Dame is expected to be more explosive offensively this year with Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman at quarterback. Notre Dame’s defense should also be the best by far that Ohio State faces in the first month of the season, making the trip to South Bend the first real test for the Buckeyes’ new starting quarterback. And the Fighting Irish, who have playoff hopes as the No. 13 team in the preseason AP poll, will surely be motivated to earn a signature early-season win that puts them in the CFP conversation.

Still, only four of our staffers view Notre Dame as one of Ohio State’s three toughest games of the year.

10. Wisconsin (Oct. 28, Away)

Average Ranking: 9.9
High Rank: 9
Low Rank: 11

The Eleven Warriors staff unanimously agreed that Ohio State’s late October trip to Madison will be one of the Buckeyes’ four most difficult games of the season. We all put Wisconsin between ninth and 11th in our confidence rankings.

Ohio State has won its last nine games against Wisconsin, but the Badgers have the potential to be more dangerous than they have been in recent years with Luke Fickell taking over as head coach. New offensive coordinator Phil Longo is expected to modernize the Wisconsin offense with the help of a quarterback upgrade in SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai, while the Badgers should still have a strong defense and a stout running game led by Braelon Allen.

Add in the fact that Ohio State’s first trip to Camp Randall Stadium in seven years comes just one week after another big game against Penn State, and this game has the recipe to be a dangerous one, even though the Badgers don’t have quite the same level of talent as the powers on the East side of the conference.

Luke Fickell
Luke Fickell’s Wisconsin Badgers are viewed as one of Ohio State’s three most dangerous opponents of the regular season. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports)

11. Penn State (Oct. 21, Home)

Average Ranking: 10.2
High Rank: 8
Low Rank: 11

Penn State has been consistently circled as one of the biggest annual tests on Ohio State’s schedule since the Nittany Lions upset the Buckeyes in 2016, and this year is no different.

The Buckeyes have won the last six matchups with the Nittany Lions, but James Franklin may have his best squad this year since the one that won the Big Ten seven years ago. Expectations are high for new Penn State quarterback Drew Allar, while Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are one of the nation’s best running back tandems and Chop Robinson, Abdul Carter and Kalen King headline a defense loaded with playmakers.

Ohio State hasn’t lost to Penn State at home since 2011, and the Buckeyes will have the benefit of the home crowd on their side this year. That will only make life more difficult for an inexperienced quarterback in what will be Penn State’s biggest road test of the season. But with exactly half of our voters ranking this as the second-most concerning game on Ohio State’s schedule, there’s a clear consensus that the Nittany Lions are not an opponent to be taken lightly.

12. Michigan (Nov. 25, Away)

Average Ranking: 12
High Rank: 12
Low Rank: 12

Just as the staff unanimously agreed that Youngstown State will be the easiest win of the season, we all agreed that beating Michigan will be the toughest task of the season for Ohio State.

That speaks to how the tenor of the rivalry has changed over the past two seasons as the Wolverines have earned back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes in decisive fashion. Michigan, ranked second nationally in the major preseason polls, could have an even better team this year than it’s had the past two years, and playing The Game in Ann Arbor will only make the task of beating the team up north tougher.

Beating Michigan is undeniably the biggest priority for Ohio State entering 2023, but with the way the last two years have gone, a win over the Wolverines can no longer simply be expected. Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are now in the position of having to prove they can rise to the occasion in the biggest game of the year, and because it is expected to be the most difficult game of the year, Ohio State’s performance in all of its first 11 games will be viewed through the lens of whether it’s good enough to win The Game.

Readers’ Picks

Reader Rankings
Pos Team Avg
8 PURDUE 7.1
11 PENN STATE 10.6
12 MICHIGAN 11.5
Staff Rankings
Pos Team Avg
11 PENN STATE 10.2

Although not quite unanimous like the staff, Eleven Warriors readers agreed that Youngstown State will be the easiest game for Ohio State to win while Michigan will be the toughest. While one reader picked Michigan as their most confident win, everyone else ranked The Game as the most or second-most concerning matchup.

In contrast with the staff, the readers are collectively more confident that the Buckeyes will beat Wisconsin than Notre Dame – although one reader picked Wisconsin as the opponent they’d be least likely to bet on Ohio State to win, which no one did for Notre Dame. Penn State was also selected as the most difficult win by multiple readers.

Western Kentucky was the only team other than Youngstown State and Michigan as a reader’s most confident win, though Indiana is the opponent the readers are collectively second-most certain Ohio State will defeat.

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