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Ohio State has never been one to shy away from a big out of conference game, so long as it was sandwiched around some juicy cupcakes. Now, OSU AD Gene Smith is talking about taking scheduling to a whole new level.
The conventional wisdom for Big Power football scheduling goes a little like this. You should play one big name a year, another okay-ish team, and then two cupcakes, three if you can get away with it. Ohio State followed that plan well, setting up high profile home and homes with elite programs like USC and Texas, along with future arrangements with Virgina Tech, Oklahoma, and most recently, TCU. These big games shared schedule space with some of the dregs of the FBS (San Jose State, New Mexico State, Kent State), and even FCS Youngstown State. Occasionally a sportswriter would complain about these games, before picking up a newspaper and realizing that "oh wait every school does this so singling out just one is dumb" (offer not valid for Mike Bianchi, who thinks Urban Meyer is immoral for playing UAB).
There were good reasons for this strategy. The BCS rewards schools that go undefeated or win their conference, and why compromise your chances by playing a bunch of hard teams in September?
But the game has changed, and college football is getting a playoff system, which means strength of schedule is going to be more important than ever before. OSU AD Gene Smith sees this, and has declared that the days of sacrificial lambs are over, and that Ohio State is going to try and play 4 BCS level teams a year. You can keep your Charleston Southern Illinoises. We're going to put on our big boy pants now.
This is a pretty dramatic change of thought. For one thing, this approach is a subtle acknowledgement that the Big Ten might not be getting a lot better in the near future. We discussed the nuts and bolts behind this in more detail recently, but Penn State's sanctions, a stable of new coaches and recruiting problems in the western half of the conference may mean that playing only 2 or 3 top 25 squads in conference could potentially be the new normal. If that's the case, Ohio State needs to be ready to pick up a few scalps in September.
Second, while this is a noble goal, it isn't likely to be the case every season. Schedules are made multiple years in advance, and it can be predict who is going to be good, and get enough home games to balance the budget. Miami (of Florida) and Cal looked like much bigger games when OSU added them six years ago, and it is entirely possible that Virgina Tech (or TCU) won't be elite when we play them. Budgetary pressures will keep OSU from straight up barnstorming multiple road games a season either, which means that the occasional MAC-level team will still pop up. OSU has Buffalo and Florida A&M (which will give us a GREAT battle of the bands) next season, Kent State in 2014 and BGSU in 2016. One MAC game a year is probably okay; it's when you get to multiple creampuffs a season that you run into problems.
Smith said the goal is to hit 4 "top 50" teams in a year, which means that multiple BCS conference title contenders are unlikely, which is fine. Tulsa, a CUSA team that has been a bowl regular (and recently beat ND) is on the schedule in 2016, and OSU may look to other strong midmajor or independent squads to fill in some gaps (Southern Miss? BYU? Nevada?). OSU isn't afraid of putting 8+ win caliber squads as their #2 in a season though, as Cincinnati and UNC are scheduled in years where Virgina Tech is on the docket.
A commitment to strong out of conference opponents may hopefully also mean regional variety. OSU faces 2 ACC schools in the near future (UNC and Virginia Tech), 2 Big 12 schools (Oklahoma and TCU) a Big East (Cincinnati) a good CUSA program (Tulsa) and an Indie (Navy), along with the Pac-12's Cal and the SEC's Vandy. Perhaps a home and home with a Florida school might help OSU's southern recruiting exposure (FSU? USF? I know we'd love a rematch with Florida). Perhaps a neutral site game at the JerrahDome against another Pac-12 school? Maybe OSU can call Tennessee or Georgia back and see if previously agreed upon games can be restored.
Other Big Ten teams are joining the arms race too. Wisconsin, a poster boy for playing nobody, signed a 2 game deal with BYU, and gets Washington State and Virginia Tech soon. Michigan has Utah coming on the schedule soon (along with ND). In 2015, Nebraska plays BYU, Miami (FL), and Southern Miss in the same season (and has a home and home with Tennessee scheduled after). Iowa, Illinois, and Purdue haven't announced any big games, but this might push them in that direction.
Football fans everywhere come out big winners in these scenarios, along with university officials who have more chances to make that sweet sweet television money. Knocking off a few early season big games could do wonders in helping address the structural problems in the Big Ten as well.
It's a great time to be a Buckeye. Now we just gotta make sure we win 'em.