When looking at any team's schedule in the preseason, it is certainly easy to pick out the big games; contests that involve coaching story lines, national rankings, championship hopes and implications, and rivalries. With the Buckeyes, this certainly is no different, as every year brings marquee opponents to the 'Shoe, and may feature the Scarlet and Gray traveling to the countries most hostile environments to take non-conference foes and B1G rivals (here's to you, Penn State and Wisconsin).
Like other programs however, the Buckeyes are also susceptible to the dreaded "trap game," where the heavily favored team is beaten by an unlikely opponent. These games usually take place before big game, when the team is looking ahead, or after the big game, where a team can be riding high momentum, or picking themselves back up off the ground. Sometimes these games appear out of nowhere, and against the unlikeliest of opponents. The dreams of many past Ohio State seasons have been dashed due to games like these. Most recently was the 2010 trip to Camp Randall, where a 31-18 defeat at the hands of the Badgers derailed the potential for a BCS Championship Game appearance.
The 2014 season for the Buckeyes is filled with big game potential, most notably the early season clash with Virginia Tech, along with the mid-season bouts with James Franklins' Nittany Lions, and the defending league champion Spartans in East Lansing. These games could come out either way for the Bucks, but lets look now at two opponents that could cause Braxton, Bosa and company to slip up earlier than you would expect them to. This is also not to say the Buckeyes will lose any of these games, just to say that the potential is certainly there.
Week 5: Cincinnati Bearcats
What's more dangerous to a team made up of young and inexperienced players than looking ahead past opponents to their conference slate? After surviving early season tests against the Midshipmen and the Hokies, you would think the Buckeyes are more then capable of handling their little Bearcat brothers in prime-time under the lights, right? These are not your fathers' Bearcats. After receiving another year of eligibility following a season ending injury at Illinois, Coach Tommy Tuberville and the bearcats will get back play making senior quarterback Munchie Legaux, who will be pushed for playing time by sophomore Gunner Kiel, a highly touted transfer from Notre Dame. The Bearcats also wield enough firepower at the skill player positions to make even the most confident Buckeye fan sweat. Shaq Washington is a stellar possession receiver who caught more than three-quarters of his targets last year. Chris Moore, Max Morrison, and Mekale McKay are potentially stellar deep threats who combined to average 17.5 yards per catch and 10.0 yards per target in 2013. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the prototypical "scat" back, and Hosey Williams is a perfect vertical complement to Abernathy's more bouncy, horizontal threat. Throw in young budding talent (running back E.J. Junior, tight end Tyler Cogswell, three three-star red-shirt freshman receivers, etc.), and this is a potentially loaded unit, capable of giving the Buckeye defense fits when September rolls around, and has the potential to be the Buckeyes first loss to an in-state opponent since 1921.
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Week 12: Minnesota
Don't look now, but you should expect to see the Minnesota Golden Gophers contend for a Western division title. Not necessarily win, but certainly contend. That being said, any contender should be able to compete with the best of them, and Minnesota got a gift from the scheduling gods with the Buckeyes coming to town after their bout with Michigan State. This could work for the Gophers in one of two ways; they could catch the Buckeyes riding high after a hard earned victory over their developing rival, or could catch them licking their wounds, potentially missing a shot at a division crown in their own right. Either scenario could work nicely for coach Jerry Kill and the gang. It would be easy to overlook an opponent after a big win, or simply play uninspired after a big loss. The Gophers most likely would rather have it that way.
Looking past where the Gophers lie on the schedule, Minnesota themselves have what it takes on the field to hang with, and possibly knock off the Buckeyes as well. While the offense in 2013 left more to be desired, the defense was every bit a top 50 unit. Even with having to replace stars Ra'Shede Hageman and Roland Johnson, the Gophers return six starters from last years unit, as well as almost the entire second string. Similar to the defensive line, the secondary also lost considerable talent, with Brock Vareen landing with the Bears in last month's NFL Draft. But it is still hard to worry about the unit as a whole, with the return of corners Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and all three of Minnesota's primary safeties. The Gopher defense was ranked 47th last season, even with a subpar pash rush. Expect with another solid push up front for the Gophers to make a push (no pun intended) into the top 40. The combination of all of these factors could spell trouble for the Buckeyes, who will be ushering in talented, but young players on offense this upcoming season. Talent often can trump experience, but in a November conference road game? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
This all being said, I do not expect either one of these teams to beat Ohio State when push comes to shove. The Buckeyes have better talent, overall better depth, and better coaching. But going undefeated in the regular season is hard, no matter who you have to line up against every week. Most experts and fans expect the Scarlet and Gray to slip up against the Penn States and Spartys of the world, but don't be surprised to see either of these teams give the Bucks a run for their money.