The Ohio State football season will be here before you know it, and even if you’ve only been paying semi-close attention this offseason, you’re probably aware of the major storylines with the program. This is going to be an exceptionally young, but talented and athletic team. There’s a lack of proven production at wideout, running back, and defensive back. They return the best QB in the conference, and should at least compete for a Big Ten title.
But you may not know a lot about the specific teams on Ohio State’s schedule. We’ll get into a lot more detail before the actual games, but you may want a primer so you can sound smart at the bar, or at the barbecue, or in the grocery store checkout line.
So take a look at Ohio State’s opponents this year. Next up, perhaps the biggest non-conference game of the entire dang season, Oklahoma.
This biggest non-conference game of the season? Is that hyperbole?
Maybe not. Other writers at SBNation.com wrote that Ohio State-Oklahoma would be the biggest non-conference game this year, and even though Week 1 is chock full of awesome games, it’s hard to think of another compelling candidate. Florida State-Ole Miss? Alabama-USC? Stanford-Notre Dame? If it isn’t at the top, it should be close. This will feature two teams with storied histories and project to be in the playoff conversation. Should be fun.
So why is Oklahoma in the playoff conversation this year? I mean, besides the fact that they were literally in the playoff last year.
It all starts with their quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Mayfield, a legit Heisman contender himself, was the triggerman for an offense that scored at least 30 points in every game but two. Mayfield completed a staggering 68.1% of his passes, tossing 38 TDs against only 7 picks, while picking up 3700 yards. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon returning in the backfield (the two combined for over 2,000 yards rushing last season), the Sooners have an argument for the best backfield in the entire country.
Leading wideout Sterling Shepard is gone, as are two outstanding offensive linemen, but as long as Mayfield stays healthy, the Sooners offense should have the weapons needed to wrack up yards and points in a hurry. They’ll be a handful for anybody on their schedule, including Ohio State.
Okay, but what about the defense?
The two teams that managed to beat Oklahoma last season, Texas and Clemson, were able to execute on the one important thing, running the dang ball. As Bill Connelly points out in his Oklahoma preview, the Sooners’ defensive scheme sacrifices some bulk for speed, leaving it a bit vulnerable to a power rushing attack.
Not too many teams in the Big 12 have the personnel to really attack this system, so Oklahoma was still able to win a lot of football games. That’ll probably be the case this season. The Sooners will need to replace a slew of talented linebackers, as well as defensive end Charles Tapper, so their pass rush might take a step back this season.
But the Sooners return a bunch of excellent defensive backs, even though Zach Sanchez is gone as well. Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker are solid, experienced safeties, and Jordan Thomas could be a very solid cornerback. If the Sooners can get a strong pass rush, they should have the bodies to have effective secondary play, even in a pass-happy Big 12.
Okay, everybody is talking up Oklahoma as a playoff contender. How possible is that, really?
Pretty dang possible. Outside of TCU, there doesn’t look another team in the Big 12 capable of really challenging Oklahoma for a conference title (although that didn’t stop Texas from beating them last season). Oklahoma’s conference road schedule is tricky, with road trips to TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia (plus Texas on a neutral site), but it’s still set up in a way where the Sooners could potentially lose to the Buckeyes and still be in decent position to make the playoff.
What’s the all-time record between these teams?
You’d think that two teams with as much history and success as Oklahoma and Ohio State would have played more often, but Winsipedia only has two previous meetings. The series is tied 1-1, with the Buckeyes winning in Norman back in 1983 (24-14), and Oklahoma grabbing a win in Columbus back in 1977, (29-28). The road team winning every meeting might be a nice omen for the Buckeyes, who have to play in Norman this season.
How worried should Buckeye fans be about this game?
Pretty dang worried. Michigan will be a difficult game, of course, but the Sooners are probably the most complete team Ohio State will face this season, and it’s on the road, and relatively early in the year. The Buckeyes may have the personnel to run right at Oklahoma, slow the game down a bit and wear them down physically, like Texas and Clemson did. But Ohio State’s new secondary will absolutely be getting a workout.
The smart money is on the Sooners picking up the win this year. We’ll have to see if the money is right.