Nonconference matchups are one of the most exciting things about the start of a new college football season. They help to not only show how two teams stand against each other, but how entire conferences stack up against one another. It’s like bowl season, but before the winter.
While many look at this year’s Monday night opening game against Virginia Tech as an opportunity for revenge, it also serves as a chance to again appear on the national stage—primetime, Monday night, and distinct from the rest of the week’s games—to notch an early, signature win against a historically formidable foe. Traditionally, nonconference games have set the tone for the season early, generating hype around a team which otherwise might be criticized for only beating its MAC opponent by 20.
Since the inception of Ohio State football in 1890, Ohio State has played in 41 "home and home" matchups against nonconference opponents. There were an additional ten series against nonconference teams with both games in the set being played at Ohio Stadium. This year’s opening game matchup against Virginia Tech will be the conclusion of the 42nd such home and home series, and the first against Virginia Tech. Here is some other series trivia:
- The first home and home matchup for Ohio State came against Columbia from 1925-1926, with the Buckeyes coming out on top in both games.
- Ohio State’s most frequent opponent in home and home series? Pittsburgh. The Buckeyes and Panthers faced off thirteen consecutive times from 1940 to 1952, alternating between the two sites. They also had three additional series, leading to an overall record of 16-3 in favor of Ohio State.
- USC and Ohio State have faced off in seven home and home matchups (including one three-game series). USC leads the series 9-5-1.
- Ohio State played UCLA three times between 1975-1976, winning in the regular season, losing in the Rose Bowl and tying the following season.
- 1975 was also the first home and home matchup against then-out-of-conference foe Penn State.
- Overall, Ohio State is 35-11-3 at home and 30-14-2 on the road in home and home matchups. Ohio State has been ranked at some point in 34 of the series, with opponents being ranked 17 times.
With many of these matchups played out late as night games, they are brought more prominently onto the national stage during a less crowded TV segment. Think of the primetime matchups against Texas and USC in 2005 and 2009 respectively (the USC game with an official attendance of 106,033 remains the 7th highest attended game in Ohio Stadium history, even with the stadium’s 2014 expansion). Teams and conferences receive benefits in the forms of increased ticket sales and higher ratings from these matchups.
Moreover, highly-touted nonconference matchups give credibility to teams who schedule them. We can sit here and debate the merits of the MAC verses the Sunbelt all day, but we all recognize that teams from major conferences improve the resume, even if the other team is unranked. And in the new playoff era, quality and recognizable wins are more important than ever.
Even losses to out of conference teams aren’t as bad as they seem. The loss obviously does not affect conference standing, but it also doesn’t seem to be marked against when it comes to national rankings. As heart wrenching as it was to watch Texas defeat Ohio State at home in 2005, Ohio State finished the season the same rank they were when they started—4th. And last year, even losing in week two, Ohio State entered the College Football Playoff ranked four spots higher than they were against Virginia Tech.
Of course, it would just be simpler for them to remain #1 all year.