National publications have rated Ohio State’s football schedule as high as the second-toughest in the Big Ten to as low as No. 7 in the conference.
Here’s my ranking of Ohio State’s regular season games from the least challenging to the toughest match-up:
12. Youngstown State
The Penguins went 7-4 last season and have 17 returning players who started at least six games last season. But some of the people who know them best — the coaches and athletic department personnel in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the media members who cover them — picked them to finish sixth in that 12-team league.
YSU does have a couple of interesting Ohio State connections. The biggest is safety Marcus Hooker, who played for Ohio State from 2018-2021 and was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2020. And wide receiver Max Tomczak is the nephew of former OSU quarterback Mike Tomczak.
If Indiana is lucky it might win four games this season. If it is unlucky it could win closer to two games. The sunny optimism of 2019 and 2020 when the Hoosiers were 8-5 and 6-2 and briefly climbed into the Top 10 in the rankings has been replaced by rumblings that coach Tom Allen might need a good season to keep his job.
10. Western Kentucky
This could be the first test of whether OSU has fixed its problem with giving up big plays. Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed passed for 4,744 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2022 and Malachi Corley (101 catches, 1,295 yards and 11 TDs last season) is viewed as an early round NFL draft pick. But even if they hit on a couple of big scoring plays it’s unlikely the Hilltoppers will slow down the Buckeyes’ offense enough to pull off an upset.
The Scarlet Knights’ schedule has a high degree of difficulty. Two of their three crossover games against West Division teams will be at Wisconsin and at Iowa and their final four games of the regular season are at home against Ohio State, at Iowa, at Penn State and at home against Maryland. They also have to find a quarterback who completes more than 50 percent of his passes.
8. Michigan State
Michigan State has not been a factor in the Big Ten since it went 11-2 in Mel Tucker’s first year as its coach in 2021. It wasn’t last year. It won’t be this year. Probably no one is happier to see C.J. Stroud go to the NFL than the Spartans. He threw six touchdown passes against them in 2021, then did it again last season.
Purdue has some interesting offensive talent with Texas transfer quarterback Hudson Card and running back Devin Mockobee, a former walk-on who ran for a Purdue freshman record 968 yards last season. The big question is who will block for them after three Boilermakers who were expected to be starting offensive linemen hit the transfer portal.
The Gophers have a first-year starter at quarterback, will be replacing the school’s all-time leading rusher Mohamed Ibrahim and will have several new starters on the offensive and defensive lines. If redshirt sophomore QB Athan Kaliakmanis can get the ball to a good group of receivers Minnesota could be one of the better teams in the Big Ten West. If not, it could be a long season.
It looks like another season of throwing a scare into one or more of the top teams in the Big Ten but not getting a win over any of them for the Terrapins. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014 Maryland is 4-29 against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa.
4. Notre Dame
The Irish expect big things from Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman in his sixth season of college football. He has a good offensive line ahead of him and some good running backs behind him. But ND might come up a little short when the subject is pass catchers.
This is not the first time Luke Fickell has coached against Ohio State. OSU beat his 2019 Cincinnati team 42-0. “Don’t remind me,” he said when reminded of that game at Big Ten Football Media Days. A win over Ohio State would be a statement game for Wisconsin, which hasn’t beaten Ohio State since a 2010 win over the Buckeyes, who came into that night game at Camp Randall Stadium ranked No. 1.
2. Penn State
Similar to Wisconsin, which has lost 12 of its last 13 games to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have lost 10 of their last 11 games against the Buckeyes. They’re hungry and they’re talented. A lot depends how fast quarterback Drew Allar develops.
It would not be a surprise to see the Wolverines come into this game undefeated for a second year in a row.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.