Will Cal Be A "Golden" Ohio State Opponent?

James Laurinaitis had many stellar games versus Ohio State's non-conference opponents.

The California Golden Bears will invade Ohio Stadium to face the 12th AP-ranked Buckeyes on September 15th for the first time since the 1972 season. Ohio State is scheduled to return the favor of visiting California next season on September 14th, 2013. Ohio State will enter the game as a two touchdown favorite, based on most online predictions.

Years ago, Ohio State began a scheduling philosophy of at least one marquee non-conference football opponent. With an eight game Big Ten conference schedule, plus Ohio State's efforts to have as many home games as possible to help with athletic department funding of other sports, this is a challenge for the Ohio State athletic department, year in and year out.

Compounding these challenges is the actual scheduling of games so many years in advance. Ohio State signed the contract with California many years ago. It is easy to forget that California concluded the 2004 season ranked ninth in the country. How many people can remember how Texas, led by its head coach Mack Brown, lobbied the Rose Bowl to pick Texas instead of California for that game? California was shipped off to the Holiday Bowl instead, much to the chagrin of California fans and California head coach Jeff Tedford.

Flash forward to 2012. California enters this game versus Ohio State with one win and one loss. Losing at home to Nevada in the season opener, with a newly-renovated Memorial Stadium, was bad enough. Winning a closer than anticipated game versus Southern Utah, an FCS opponent, in the second game only makes Ohio State fans wonder if this truly fits the definition of a "marquee" non-conference football opponent.

Taking a brief look back over the past ten seasons, here are the designated "marquee" opponents Ohio State faced. Half of these games were at home, while half were on the road.

2002: Washington State at home. Yes, I know Texas Tech could be considered a marquee opponent as well, but Texas Tech was added later, when Ohio State was able to secure the Pigskin Classic rights. I was in attendance to watch Ohio State defeat eventual Rose Bowl-bound Washington State, 25-7.

2003: North Carolina State at home. Again, I know Washington could be considered marquee, but like Texas Tech, was a later addition to the schedule. This was another game I had the pleasure of attending in Ohio Stadium, with several family members, including my lovely wife Colleen. A true thriller that was decided on the final play of the third overtime as Ohio State defeated North Carolina State, 44-38.

2004: On the road, at North Carolina State. Not nearly as compelling as the previous year's version, Ohio State won 22-14, behind the quarterbacking of Justin Zwick and the field goals of Mike Nugent.

2005: Texas at home. Down to the wire. This one lived up to its billing. Who can ever forget Ryan Hamby not hanging on to the pass from Zwick in the end zone, as Hamby takes a wicked shot? Tough loss to the eventual national champion, 25-22.

2006: On the road, at Texas. Ohio State won 24-7, behind some big Troy Smith plays. It is easy to forget that Texas was ranked second, behind Ohio State, when this game kicked off. I recall this game as being a springboard for Ohio State QB Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy campaign, as well as the emergence of LB James Laurinaitis as a defensive stalwart.

2007: On the road, at Washington. Closer than anticipated in the first half, with the ballyhooed Washington QB Jake Locker playing, leading Washington to a halftime lead. WR Brian Robiskie and LB James Laurinaitis had big games as Ohio State won 33-14.

2008: On the road, at USC. I think Ohio State fans would characterize this one like, "Besides the ending, how was the rest of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?".

2009: USC at home. A painful loss. Watching true freshman QB Matt Barkley lead USC down the field late in the game was heart wrenching.

2010: Miami (FL) at home. The long-awaited rematch of the 2002 national championship game. Ohio State was able to effectively harass Miami QB Jacory Harris enroute to a 336-24 victory.

2011: On the road, at Miami (FL). The effective end of QB Joe Bauserman's career at Ohio State.

Will California be a golden opponent for the Buckeyes? We can only hope that the game lives up to the promise of when it was originally scheduled.

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