Ohio State football: Are neutral site games still important?

Alabama and Michigan square off in 2012 on a neutral field. - Leon Halip

Time was, playing a nationally-recognized neutral site game at the beginning of the year could serve as a springboard to BCS success. With the College Football Playoff Era about to begin, and a fairly full schedule in the future, should Ohio State be concerned with its lack of such games?

Let's take a trip in the way-back machine to September 5, 2009, shall we? And let's head down Arlington, Texas way, to the Jerry Dome, home of the Dallas Cowboys and, since 2009, one of the opening games of the college football season. Dubbed the "Cowboys Classic", this kickoff game was meant to pair two top contenders against one another and launch a BCS campaign for the winner, and snooker the loser behind the eight ball after just one game.

The first iteration of the game paired the BYU Cougars, then ranked 20th in the country, against the then #3 Oklahoma Sooners. BYU won the game, propelling them to an 11-2 season. Oklahoma wound up unranked and 8-5. Springboard and snooker.

Meanwhile, about 800 miles away, The Alabama Crimson Tide, then ranked #5 in the country, were getting set to face the then ranked #7 Virginia Tech Hokies in another of the season's first games, this the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, which was won in the 2009 by Alabama. That Crimson Tide team finished the 2009 season undefeated with a national championship. The 2009 Hokies finished a respectable 10-3, but out of the conversation for a BCS bowl game. Springboard and snooker.

In Columbus Ohio on September 5 2009, then #6 Ohio State played an uninspiring game against Navy, a game it almost lost, and a game that no one cared about outside of the I-270 loop.

Fast forward a year. In Arlington, it was #6 TCU against #24 Oregon State. In Atlanta, #21 LSU and #18 North Carolina. Both big games, both receiving big national attention, and one game featuring a team, TCU, that would use the appearance to launch their BCS campaign and go undefeated.

In Columbus a few days before that, Ohio State beat* the tar out of Marshall in Ohio Stadium.

*Note: I feel like, at this point, we don't have to mention that the 2010 season was vacated, and that any and all good that came of that season didn't count. I was at the Marshall game that year, and I know for a fact that it did happen, so while the college football record books reflect that the game never was, you, me and the other 105,000 in attendance know better.

This pattern continues as we get closer to present day:

2011

  • Arlington: #3 LSU defeats #4 Oregon
  • Atlanta: #5 Boise State defeats #19 Georgia
  • Columbus: #18 Ohio State defeats Akron

2012

  • Arlington: #2 Alabama defeats #8 Michigan
  • Atlanta: Tennessee defeats NC State; #14 Clemson defeats Auburn
  • Columbus: #18 Ohio State defeats Miami University

2013 (featuring another kickoff game in Houston)

  • Arlington: #12 LSU defeats #20 TCU
  • Atlanta: #1 Alabama defeats Virginia Tech
  • Houston: #13 Oklahoma State defeats Mississippi State
  • Columbus: #2 Ohio State defeats Buffalo

For the most part, the winning teams in these games set up reasonably successful seasons (qualified because of the 2011 Ohio State Tire Fire). But the biggest difference between Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma State, TCU et.al. and Ohio State is that all of those teams started their seasons far from their home stadiums, while Ohio State got their victories in the friendly confines of the Horseshoe. And in the BCS Era, that made a difference.

Unless you were in the SEC (and therefore given the benefit of the doubt because of how good your conference was perceived to be), getting to a BCS game meant either going undefeated and, for the most part, unchallenged in what many would consider a "normal" slate of games, or putting your team out there in front of a huge national audience. This is exactly what the likes of TCU, Boise State, Oregon and others had to do to be relevant.

For the most part, that worked wonders for those programs, not only on the field, but in terms of exposure to the national audience, particularly high school juniors and seniors looking for a place to matriculate in the coming falls. Playing in a national kickoff game on a neutral field and winning was, in the BCS Era, one of the best ways to ensure a better chance at playing in a better game down the line.

But that was then, and this is now. It is no longer 100+ teams fighting for two spots; now the college football world does battle each week for four spots in the new College Football Playoff. This makes the burden of leaving your home field to begin the year a little less so, but, with four big-time kickoff games scheduled in Arlington, Houston, and Atlanta, it will still be an important part of a team's resume when Condoleezza Rice and her friends pick the best four teams at the end of the year.

So where does this leave the Buckeyes? In a bit of a precarious position, actually. While it does open the 2014 season in a neutral site (in M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore) Ohio State faces a Navy team that went 9-4 in 2013, and previously gave the them fits a few years back. And, despite the storied tradition of both schools, and the storylines a-plenty (Navy's crazy offense vs Ohio State's revamped defense, etc), this is likely far from a top tier matchup, especially considering the other match ups in other cities (see: sidebar).

Given the national popularity and reputation of the Buckeyes, not to mention the same of Urban Meyer, it is likely fair to think that if Ohio State takes care of its own business, there will be a top-four spot with their name on it. The chances of this are all but certain if the Buckeyes run through their schedule undefeated with a Big Ten Championship Game victory in their back pockets.

But wouldn't it be nice to pad the schedule early on with a marquee victory over and LSU, or Oklahoma State? Or with a win in a nationally broadcast slug-fest against the likes of Florida or Florida State? Even with a close loss, the likelihood might be that just playing in a game like that could be enough to be the springboard that puts the Buckeyes in a position to be two straight wins away from a national championship.

Unfortunately, baring some poorly-timed emails by Gene Smith (à la Vanderbilt), the Ohio State schedule for the upcoming years is getting close to capacity for the foreseeable future. And it could be that scheduling games like this won't matter in the new era of college football. Indeed, it is likely prudent for the Buckeyes to stand pat and see what the process of getting into the top-four actually looks like. But if the BCS Era is any indication, neutral site games may not just be the desire of a fan base; they may be a necessity for the program.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Land-Grant Holy Land

You must be a member of Land-Grant Holy Land to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Land-Grant Holy Land. You should read them.

Join Land-Grant Holy Land

You must be a member of Land-Grant Holy Land to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Land-Grant Holy Land. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker