The Big Ten released the 2015 conference schedules today, but that doesn't mean Ohio State's full slate is fully fleshed out yet. We know that the Buckeyes will be making the trip to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on September 19th, and that Ohio State will host the reigning #MACtion kings, Northern Illinois, on Sept 12th. But the other non-conference games are unknown – a previously scheduled home game with North Carolina has been moved to 2018.
This is the last year Ohio State will get four non-conference games before the switch to a nine-game Big Ten schedule starting in 2016, so ideally you'd want to make them count. But financial and practical concerns make assembling anything remotely resembling an all-star schedule difficult. We took a stab at some possible suggestions, using the following assumptions:
1) Both of the unscheduled games will be 2015 home games for Ohio State Gene Smith has said that Ohio State needs seven home games a season to meet all of their financial (and otherwise) commitments, and the Bucks only have five currently on the schedule (NIU, Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan State).
2) The teams scheduled in 2015 will almost certainly be one game arrangements, not home-and-home's So for you guys hoping for Alabama or something, it's not going to happen. The Bucks are already completely full for the 2016 season and already have home and home arrangements heading into the 2023, and with a nine-game league schedule, they'll only be able to play a road non-con every other year. The only way Ohio State can schedule a home and home for 2015 is if the other school is okay with taking a return game more than a decade away. That's not super likely.
3) The teams scheduled are free August 29th or September 5th The Buckeyes are also free September 26th, but that will probably be used as a bye before Big Ten play starts. While it's possible the Buckeyes could rearrange the NIU game to a different week for the right matchup (like Buffalo did for this season), for the sake of simplicity, let's stick with teams that have the same open dates.
4) All schedule data comes from FBSchedules.com I won't lie to you guys, I don't know every Sun Belt schedule off the top of my head. In fact, I had to look up who will be IN the Sun Belt in 2015. If you want to check my work, that's the place to go.
Okay, now that we're all on the same page, here are examples of schools that Ohio State could reasonable consider for 2015:
Series History: 4-2 Ohio State, with the last meeting a 35-12 Buckeye victory in 1992.
2012 Record: 8-5, with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl
It's completely stupid to try and forecast how good Syracuse might be in 2012, but after years of dramatic struggles, there are signs the Orange is starting to pick itself off the mat. According to FBschedules, Syracuse has no 2015 non-conference commitments right now, and might be about a good a program as Ohio State might be able to grab without a promise of a return game.
Series History: 1-0 Ohio State, with the Buckeyes trashing Houston 52-0 in 1994. The Cougars were 1-10 that season.
2012 Record: 5-7
The Cougars are headed to The American, where they could be one of the programs better positioned for consistent league success. Win or lose, Houston certainly isn't boring, especially last season, when they gave up 72 (72!!) points to SMU and 48 to ECU. Who doesn't love lots of points?
Series History: The Bulldogs and the Buckeyes have never played each other. All the more reason to start now.
2012 Record: 9-3, although the Bulldogs blew off their bowl invitation because YOLO
If it's a pointsfest you want, and Houston is busy, you can always call Louisiana Tech, a program that likely won't be as good as they were in 2012. Under former USF and East Carolina head man, Skip Holtz, they still might well be interesting. Any team that won a 62-55 football game recently is one I want to watch on TV. That's higher scoring than a lot of Big Ten basketball games we watched last year.
Series History: Feels kinda hard to believe, but the Buckeyes and Black Knights have not played before.
2012 Record: 2-10, including losses to Eastern Michigan and Stony Brook.
Look, let's be honest. At least one of these games is probably going to be a lower level cupcake type game. If we've resigned ourselves to that reality, wouldn't scheduling Army over say, Eastern Michigan or some expansion Sun Belt school be better? We'd get a week of patriotic lead up instead of scrambling to find things to say about Georgia State. I don't think we'd get a lot of fan pushback for an Army game.
Series History: Ohio State is 0-1 against Air Force, losing the 1990 Liberty Bowl 23-11.
2012 Record: 6-7, lost 33-14 to Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl
If you want all the patriotic warm fuzzy benefits of playing Army, but still want to face a competent football team, why not schedule Air Force? If nothing else, that Liberty Bowl needs to avenged.
Series History: 2-0 Buckeyes, although these teams haven't played since Ohio State won 19-6...in 1935.
2012 Record: 2-10, although they did clobber what turned out to be a pretty good Kent State team, so they have that.
This would be an interesting case study, given the newfound importance of recruiting Ohio for the Wildcats. A win, or perhaps even a highly competitive showing, would do wonders for rebuilding Kentucky's brand, and given how they're recruiting now, it feels reasonable to assume they'll at least be better than they were in 2012. On the other hand, would they want to schedule Louisville (already on the slate) AND a road trip to Ohio State AND an SEC schedule, especially without a return game? And would a stomping by the Buckeyes damage Kentucky's standing in a critical recruiting market? It's an interesting question, and one that probably won't come to fruition, but it would make an intriguing matchup.
Once you get beyond Kentucky, the pickings get slim pretty quickly. I don't think any Ohio State fan would be excited by anybody left in the Sun Belt, although the Southern Alabamas and Texas States of the world are probably free and more than willing to come to Columbus.
My perennial non-con pitch, BYU, is technically free on August 29th, but if they played then, the Cougars would go @ Ohio State, @ Nebraska, Boise State, @ Michigan. That's suicide, but if they actually wanted that and went 2-2, I think we'd have to let them in the Big Ten West.
Many of the other non-power conference type schools in The American or Mountain West are either already on the hook for 2 road games in 2012 or have other schedule commitments. The same is true for many lower level playoff conference caliber teams.
It's pretty unlikely that Ohio State finds a team of UNC's caliber to add to their 2015 schedule, although many exciting home and home's coming up in years to come should prevent Buckeye fans from grousing too much over a few more cupcakes. And who knows, maybe Gene Smith can move some things around and make something out of nothing. You never know.
But seriously, get ready for Texas State and Old Dominion in 2015. Probably.