COLUMBUS — The schedule is only written in pencil, but at least Ohio State finally knows what it looks like now.
Cancellations, postponements and reshuffling remain distinct possibilities for the Big Ten during this unprecedented season, and it clearly put a great deal of effort into providing flexibility for a slate that will almost certainly face disruptions.
But on paper, it’s still a pretty appealing draw for the Buckeyes — and one that would certainly be entertaining if they’re able to complete it the way it was drawn up by the conference on Wednesday.
“This is not a final decision that there will be an athletics season — it is the next phase in our responsible planning process with the Big Ten Conference to be prepared if we are able to have an athletics season,â€ Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a school statement. “The final decision will be made in the coming weeks in consultation with local, state and federal authorities.”
Until the ink is dry, then, Lettermen Row is going to treat the schedule as if it’s going to be played the way it was designed. And here are Four Key Takeaways from what the Buckeyes will be facing as they look to defend their Big Ten crown.
The Game moving to October feels odd
Putting the league’s marquee matchup in the middle of the slate seems like a strange decision since it doesn’t really seem to accomplish anything. If Ohio State hosting Michigan in the latest edition of the rivalry needed to move out of the final week of the regular season because it was unlikely to actually be the final game thanks to the padded off dates in November and December, that’s understandable.
But there had been serious conversation about front-loading the slate with division games to potentially make it easier to sort out a conference champion, in which case it would have made more sense to let the Buckeyes and Wolverines clash in September. That also could have helped ensure that the series continued in the event that this grand experiment fails and the season is eventually canceled. Either way, The Game is on the schedule, and playing it at any point is all that really matters to the Buckeyes.
(Also, don’t expect that to be a night kickoff even with the move into October. FOX is already confirmed to be broadcasting The Game, and it remains fully committed to the noon time slot for its most valuable matchups — plus it’s expecting to have a World Series game later that day.)
Ohio State has major revenge opportunities
The three-time defending Big Ten champions definitely won’t be printing up T-shirts, but the Buckeyes will certainly have revenge on their minds with matchups looming against Purdue and Iowa — the only teams in the league to beat them in the last three seasons. Yes, those were costly, ugly, shocking losses for Ohio State, which only ensures that they’ve stuck in the minds of everybody in the program since then.
It’s always tempting to look for potential trap games on the schedule, and usually an overlooked opponent like the Boilermakers or Hawkeyes would fit the bill. But that won’t happen for the Buckeyes this time around given how badly they’ve wanted a chance or two to make up for those upset defeats.
So, where is the trap game?
Ohio State is far and away the most talented team in the Big Ten, and it’s the heavy favorite to again win the league for a reason. But with those upset losses to Purdue and Iowa serving as reminders, the rise in quality in the Big Ten means it’s critical not to overlook anybody in the league — especially because one bad loss can be a dealbreaker with the College Football Playoff committee.
When should the Buckeyes be on high alert then? A road trip to Maryland sandwiched between The Game and the likely East Division championship tilt at Penn State fits the bill. No, the Terrapins aren’t particularly well coached and the uptick in recruiting isn’t likely to pay dividends right away this season for a patchy roster. But the Buckeyes had a wild trip there two years ago when they weren’t at their sharpest, and it will probably be a challenge to stay focused on Maryland considering what Ohio State will have just been through and what it’s facing the following week.
Schedule flexibility figures to get early test for Ohio State
Considering all the planning that went into building such a complicated schedule, the Big Ten was probably way too far down the road to just remove Rutgers from the first few weeks of the plan entirely. But given the current situation with the Scarlet Knights in quarantine and the workouts they would obviously like to get back to maintain an even playing field with the rest of the league, it’s hard to imagine they will be playing until Week Three at the earliest.
Maybe that read of the situation for Rutgers is wrong and the league cellar-dwellers won’t have any other issues playing games, although that seems unlikely in that part of the country right now. But if there are gambling odds on whether Ohio State will be hosting the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 12, the safe bet is that it won’t happen and the built-in schedule flexibility will get an early test.