As Ohio State fans everywhere anxiously count down the days toward the start of a new football season, it is somewhat natural to review the schedule from start to finish. Which game looks to be the easiest? Which game may be the most difficult or challenging? Which game could be a trap for the Buckeyes?
Over the period of two articles, I will give you my perspective on the 2014 Ohio State football schedule, ranking the games from the perceived easiest, through the games that could truly jeopardize Ohio State's goals of winning the B1G Championship in 2014. Let us begin.
I. Easiest: By my definition, Ohio State should have this type of game well in hand by the end of the first half, and certainly by the end of the third quarter. These are the type of games where it would truly serve Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer to play as many backup players as possible, for live game action and skill development.
1. Kent State (09/13/2014 - 12pm EST kickoff, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 telecast): A sort of homecoming for former Ohio State assistant Paul Haynes and former Buckeye Najee Murray, this game might get out of hand in a hurry, if past games versus the Golden Flashes are any indication (2002 - Ohio State 51, Kent State 17. 2007 - Ohio State 48, Kent State 3). Yes, I know that Kent State played well in 2012 (11-3 record), but I believe Kent State will be overwhelmed by the superior speed and athleticism of the Buckeyes in this one.
2. Illinois (11/01/2014 - 8pm EST kickoff, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2): Last season, Illinois played Ohio State tough until the fourth quarter before losing, 60-35. Considering how Illinois head coach Tim Beckman is under fire to save his job, how Ohio State is looking at a challenging slate of November contests, and how this will be under the lights in Ohio Stadium for Halloween weekend, I see Coach Meyer wanting to send a message with this one.
3. Rutgers (10/18/2014 - 3:30pm EST kickoff, telecast TBD): Rutgers' first visit to Ohio Stadium may not be an easy one. Rutgers has a bye week before the contest with Ohio State. Unfortunately for them, so do the Buckeyes. This might be the game that spends Rutgers' first season in The B1G into a downward spiral.
4. Indiana (11/22/2014 - kickoff and telecast TBD): In 2013, Ohio State had this game well in hand 28-0 by the end of the first half. Indiana did not score until late, losing 42-14. While Indiana has probably made strides defensively, the fact that this game will serve as Ohio State's final home game of the 2014 season does not bode well for the Hoosiers.
II. Trap Games: Any football coach worries about complacency and overlooking their opponents. Several of these teams have the talent and coaching to stick with Ohio State, possibly until the end of the contest.
5. @ Maryland (10/04/2014 - kickoff and telecast TBD): Maybe I am giving the Terrapins too much credit, but I believe Byrd Stadium will be well-amped for the first B1G contest between Maryland and Ohio State. Maryland WR Stefon Diggs was heavily coveted by Coach Meyer in 2012, and could play for any football team in the country. Ohio State will win this game, but I look for this one to last until the end of the third quarter before the Buckeyes pull away.
6. @ Penn State (10/25/2014 - 8pm EST kickoff, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2): The designated "white out" game for the Nittany Lions, Penn State head coach James Franklin will do his best to have the fans and the players ready for this one. Ohio State is familiar with the "white out" theme, having played at Penn State in 2012 in a similar theme. Another bonus for Penn State is the Nittany Lions will have a bye week before this contest, while Ohio State will not. Revenge will be a topic, as Penn State looks to avenge its 63-14 mauling by Ohio State from last season. Look for a Buckeye victory, but for it not to be easy.
Part two will cover the remaining 2014 Ohio State contests, ranking the games in difficulty as I see them. Hope to see you then.