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A closer look at Ohio State’s recent struggles with G5 opponents

Not every cupcake game turns out that way.

Western Michigan v Ohio State
J.T. Barrett throwing a pass in last year’s sluggish game against Western Michigan.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State is about to open the season against Bowling Green, a proud member of the MAC. Based on recruiting rankings, facilities, program resources, or whatever other metric you want to think of, Ohio State should win comfortably. But that doesn’t always happen.

Over the years Ohio State has seemed to struggle at times when taking on mid-major opponents, even ones where they’ve been very heavy favorites. With close games in the past few years against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Navy, Cincinnati, Buffalo and UAB, all of whom are Group of 5 (Mid-Major) teams, there have been plenty of scares for the Scarlett and Gray, even if the final box score tells a different story.

With consecutive games coming up against G5 competition in Bowling Green this week and Tulsa next week, the Buckeyes may be tested more than expected.

It seems as if the Buckeyes always manage to squeak out the victory, but how does a team that only beat Navy by 17 points in the same season win a national championship by 22 over Oregon?

This trend has been going back for years. In 2004, it took a last second Mike Nugent 55 yard field goal to beat Marshall 24-21. Although the team struggled that year, finishing 8-4, almost losing to Marshall is inexplicable. OSU has always dominated the MAC, with an incredible 32-1-0 record against them (the only loss coming against Akron in an 1894 thriller), but multiple teams have come close to pulling off the unimaginable.

Just last season, the high powered and top-rated Buckeyes barely got past Northern Illinois, winning just 20-13. With just one offensive touchdown in the game and an insane five turnovers, the Buckeyes were on the brink of actually losing.

One of the main problems for the Buckeyes is the timing, since out-of-conference games almost always come at the beginning of the season. In years like 2014, where there was a freshman quarterback unexpectedly starting, running an offense can be difficult. And this year, the Buckeyes will certainly be breaking in a lot of new faces.

Another leading factor is the expectations. Ohio State isn’t expected to have close games with small schools, the fans and team expects to win every game every year. High expectations can lead to mini-letdowns.

Although the team hasn’t lost to a non (current) power conference school since losing to Air Force in the 1990 Liberty Bowl, they’ve certainly come close a few times. With expectations sky high for another year, the question is, could it happen this season?

There’s no reason to suggest that Bowling Green will have a similar or better performance against Ohio State than say, Northern Illinois did, (BGSU is breaking in a ton of new faces themselves), but this is a weird sport. It’s the biggest game of their regular season and comes against a former coach, and emotions should be high for at least one of the teams playing.

Ohio State needs to be fully prepared to encounter teams that will be playing their hearts out in their biggest game.

They’re going to have the talent advantage, but they had talent advantages over Northern Illinois and Marshall too. They have a coaching advantage, but they had one over UAB and Ohio too. Will that be enough this weekend? At the end of the day, almost certainly, but that doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t make the Buckeyes sweat an awful lot over the course of the game.

It’s certainly happened before.