Predicting the final won-lost record of your favorite college football team is something that just about every fan, publication, and Vegas oddsmaker will do at the onset of a season. Along these lines, I am going to break down the games that I believe Ohio State will probably/definitely be favored to win, escalating into the games where Ohio State may need/will need to rally for the victory.
1. UAB, 09/22 ~ Coming off a 3-9 season, UAB enters 2012 with new coach Garrick McGee (former Arkansas offensive coordinator). McGee will not enter into Ohio Stadium entirely unfamiliar with Ohio State, as former Ohio State assistant John Peterson is on his new staff.
While UAB has some talent on the offensive side of the ball, look for Ohio State's superior defensive talent to be able to effectively clamp down on UAB. This could be a contest that will allow Coach Urban Meyer to liberally substitute throughout the second half, especially with backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, Jr.
2. Miami University, 09/01 ~ Could Coach Meyer use this game as a statement game to the rest of the nation? Considering this is Coach Meyer's first game as Ohio State's head coach, with a well-publicized sabbatical, perhaps Coach Meyer will want to show that he still has what it takes to construct a formidable football team.
Miami University is coming off a disappointing first year under former Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell. Miami QB Zac Dysert leads an effective passing game, but Ohio State's strong defensive line should be able to clamp down on Miami. Ohio State should be able to put this one away early in the second half.
3. @ Indiana, 10/13 ~ This may surprise some people that I have listed Indiana as one of the easier games for Ohio State, considering how Indiana gave Ohio State all it could handle in 2011. Indiana QB Tre Roberson can make plays with both his arm and his legs, while RB Stephen Houston is a solid compliment out of the Indiana backfield.
While Indiana should be improved in 2012, the Indiana defense ranked near the complete bottom of all teams in 2011. Even with an influx of new defensive talent, Ohio State should have too much for the Hoosiers to handle.
4. @ Penn State, 10/27 ~ Here may the biggest surprise of my rankings. Most years, going to Beaver Stadium to play Penn State ranks as one of the toughest games Ohio State will play.
Now think about these names - RB Silas Redd. PK Anthony Fera. LB Khairi Fortt. Backup QB Rob Bolden. These are just some of the players who have left Penn State in the wake of the NCAA's recent punishment and sanctions against Penn State. The loss of Redd, who was Penn State's primary offensive threat, will leave Penn State vulnerable for the Buckeyes at this point of the Big Ten season.
5. California, 09/15 ~ Years ago, when this game was announced, Ohio State fans believed this would be the marquee non-conference opponent for the 2012 schedule. California is coming off a lackluster 7-6 season in 2011, with hopes of an improved 2012.
WR Keenan Allen will challenge the Ohio State secondary, allowing either cornerbacks Bradley Roby or Travis Howard an opportunity to showcase their talents against a renowned talent. Despite California's traditional strong offense, Ohio State should be able to pull away in the second half of the nationally televised contest on ABC.
6. Illinois, 11/03 ~ This was a tough rank for me. Considering how close this game was last year, how new Illini head coach Tim Beckman has a history with Ohio State (former secondary coach under Jim Tressel), as well as with Coach Meyer, how Illinois usually plays Ohio State tough in Ohio State (who can ever forget the painful loss in 2007?), I struggled with ranking this one.
This one could go into the fourth quarter before Ohio State pulls it out. Look for a slugfest with Illinois, but Ohio Stadium and the home crowd allowing the 2012 seniors to enjoy their second to last home game in Ohio State.
In Part Two, I will continue the rankings of the games that I believe will be Ohio State's most challenging for the 2012 season.