College football: Ohio State finds out 2024, 2025 Big Ten foes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football’s regular-season finale against Michigan will remain among the nation’s most-anticipated games under the Big Ten’s new schedule model unveiled Thursday.

Many of the conventions of the divisional era, however, are over. No more home-and-homes with Rutgers and Maryland every two years. No more long crossover series, such as the one the Buckeyes slogged through with Nebraska from 2016-21.

Many people speculated, made assumptions and offered well-educated guesses as to what the Big Ten would ultimately do with its 2024-25 schedule. When the answer came Thursday, there were surprises both pleasant and perhaps disappointing.

No protected rivalry with Penn State

Last fall, athletic director Gene Smith told it was possible that Michigan would be Ohio State’s “historical” rival and Penn State would be the “competitive” rival. However, he also was among those who wanted to end a rotation that had league opponents waiting several years to play each other.

Instead, Michigan is the Buckeyes’ only protected rival. Ohio State plays at Penn State in 2024, but the teams do not play in 2025 for the first time since the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993.

Some other Big Ten teams have multiple protected rivals: Illinois (Purdue and Northwestern), Purdue (Illinois and Indiana), Iowa (Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin) and Michigan (Michigan State and OSU).

Beyond the Nittany Lions’ long history of success, they have also been an East Division nemesis. Five of the teams’ last nine meetings were decided by nine or fewer points. From 2016-18, three games were decided by five total points.

Ohio State plays at UCLA, not USC, in 2024

It made a lot of sense on paper that the Big Ten’s broadcast partners would want the Buckeyes and Trojans for a major showcase game. For all we know, both teams could be coming off playoff appearances.

Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is back to lead USC in its final Pac-12 season. Ryan Day and Trojans coach Lincoln Riley have long been compared to each other due to their youth and quarterback guru credentials.

Instead, the Big Ten will wait until 2025 to have Ohio State and USC play at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes play at the Rose Bowl in 2024. It will be the first clash between Day and his mentor, UCLA coach Chip Kelly.

That seems like a missed opportunity for the conference, as an OSU-USC matchup would have brought in a massive viewing audience. The alternative will do well too, though, and there are some historical ties.

Ohio State and UCLA have played only once in the annual Rose Bowl Game. The Bruins pulled a 23-10 upset after the 1975 season, denying the No. 1 Buckeyes a national championship.

Return of the Illibuck, at least for a moment

Instead of a protected rivalry with Penn State, OSU gets a coincidental resumption of the Illibuck rivalry with Illinois.

The schedule model necessitated some double-up games even when ensuring all teams play each other every two years. Not sure the OSU-Northwestern games in 2024-25 will be must-see TV after the Wildcats’ recent slide.

However, there has arguably been no better time for the OSU-Illinois series to resume. Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema enters his third season with the Illini this fall. They jumped from 5-7 in his first season to 8-5 last season, pushing for a spot in the Big Ten championship game late in the year.

If Bielema keeps the Illini on an upward trajectory, that carved wooden turtle won’t come easy.