Ohio State football: Dealing with weak schedule pressure

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

We've read a hundred articles about Ohio State's perceived cushy schedule this year, and we'll probably read a hundred more. Could a less challenging slate bring some unintended consequences and challenges for the Bucks this year?

My office has a Michigan Man, and unfortunately, his desk is just around the corner from mine. He knows about LGHL, and will occasionally stride over to my desk to give me his best and hottest Gordon Gee takes, or to remind me if Terrelle Pryor threw an incomplete pass in a preseason game, or essentially, just to troll.

So naturally, after I hung up my fancy new LGHL Ohio State football schedule, he couldn't resist offering his expert analysis: "Buffalo? San Diego State?! Florida A&M?!? Quite the murder's row you boys have lined up down in Columbus. Typical Buckeyes; scared of the big names." I thought about retorting about how Akron and Central Michigan aren't exactly BCS heavyweights, but I remembered that reasoning with this guy is like trying to reason with my old second graders from when I was a teacher when they were throwing a temper tantrum. I smiled and nodded, while trying to make it obvious with my body language that I wanted to get back to my work. And by work, I mean Twitter.

Before he went back to his desk though, he fired this last parting shot: "You poor guys are going to have to beat everybody by 80 just to have a chance at the title game". And that unexpectedly got me thinking.

The spread for the Buffalo game right now is hovering around 35-ish points. The national, and let's face it, fan expectation would be for Ohio State to roll through their first four games. I'd expect the Buckeyes to be double digit favorites against SDSU and Cal, and if some sketchy, fourth-tier outpost decides to post a line for Florida A&M, it could conceivably get to 50 points, or more. Just about everybody expects these games to be blowouts.

That's a dangerous expectation, because absolutely throttling somebody, even a bad team (and let's be honest, Buffalo and SDSU are not bad teams, like say, Eastern Michigan, or Florida International are), isn't easy. If Ohio State beats Buffalo on Saturday say, 35-14, we're going to hear some people second guessing the performance on sports talk radio. We're also going to read from at least one blogger about how the offense or the team underachieved a little. The Buckeyes could potentially lose some AP/Coaches Poll votes to teams with more lopsided victories. And then we're left with the ridiculous scenario of complaining about beating a bowl team by 21 points.

Watching these proverbial "cupcake" games does bring another element of stress into the equation. It's hard to necessarily enjoy the action for what it is, given how easy it is to constantly compare the performance to nearly impossible expectations. When I was watching the OSU/Penn State or OSU/Nebraska games, I wasn't frazzled when the squad started slowly. A 7-point victory over either of those schools is still immensely satisfying, and I knew both teams were good enough to potentially require a little bit of #grinding. When Ohio State was struggling in the extremely early goings against Miami (OH) to open the season though, me and by buddies were ready to start throwing things. Beating the Redhawks wouldn't have been good enough. The bar was much higher, and style points were necessarily.

And even when the Buckeyes finally kicked their hangover, obliterated Miami and gave us one of the best GIF moments of the entire season, it still wasn't an entirely satisfying experience. While the 2nd and 3rd quarters of offensive explosion and domination are exciting, once the game was totally out of reach, it's easy for the feeling to shift from "holy crap this is awesome" to "man, I hope nobody gets hurt late in a totally meaningless blowout". At the start of the game, I was ready to throw things. Near the end of it, even with several minutes left, I remember only watching with one eye, with the other checking in on Ohio's impending upset of Penn State.

It's a no-win situation, really. In a sport where despite the best intentions of governing bodies, politicking still plays a part in deciding postseason opportunity, it's hard to deny that at least some pressure may exist to try and run up the score a little bit. Beating Buffalo by 21 will not earn you respect or change any narratives. Beating Buffalo by 42 might. That's all well and good, but if players make mistakes, or worse, get injured, while trying to reach for that extra highlight reel play, it becomes dangerous.

Ohio State, and Ohio State fans, can't control who is on the schedule. They can't really control national expectations, or what the coaches...er, SIDs, will say in their poll. All they can do is beat the teams on their schedule, and on paper, it looks like that is a reasonable goal. Hopefully, the players will be able to turn out all the other noise and just focus on execution, and us fans can focus on watching what should be an enjoyable and exciting football team, ability to cover high spreads be damned. We'll try to check the neurosis at the door.

Too many cupcakes, after all, can make just about anybody sick.

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