clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Breaking down Ohio State’s schedule with math and snark

Using history, data, and an Ohio State education to unbiasedly predict every game in the Buckeyes’ season.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

Almost undoubtedly more so than in any other sport, the college football schedule has a profound impact on a team’s eventual level of success or failure. Whether that is because of the relatively short, 12-game regular season; the way that games are scheduled years (if not a decade) before they are played; or the subjective way in which a champion is picked, how a college football team’s schedule somewhat randomly unfolds before them has a nearly incalculable number of ripples that work their way through the rest of the country.

Ohio State had been scheduled to begin a home-and-home series with the Georgia Bulldogs this season, but those games were canceled when the Big Ten Conference moved to a nine-game regular season slate. When those games were scraped, we had just gotten through Luke Fickell’s interim season as head coach, a year in which OSU went 6-7, and the Mark Richt-led Dawgs had finished the season ranked 19th.

That was a lifetime ago. Both Richt and the coach who had just recently been named as the next head man in Columbus (Urban Meyer) have both retired since that series was canceled. But, imagine if you will, that those games had not been removed from the 2020 and 2021 schedules. The teams would instead be looking at a top-five matchup in the first month of the season.

But — as you are well aware — that is not happening. Not because Ohio State was afraid of playing Georgia, but because seven and a half years ago, conference administrators decided to goose their television deal by adding another week of conference games to their deal, and thus was born the nine-game B1G conference schedule.

This is just one example in a cornucopia of a randomness that populates college football scheduling. So, in an effort to work through that weirdness, I am going to attempt to use history, data, and my top-notch Ohio State education to completely unbiasedly predict the outcome of every game in the Buckeyes’ season.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, you will see a notation for each game for F+. That is the percentage chance that Football Outsiders’ advanced analytical algorithms give Ohio State to win that particular game.

Florida Atlantic Owls

Saturday, August 31 @ 12 noon ET | FOX
2018 record: 5-7, 3-5 Conference-USA
F+: 99%

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This game will not be competitive. I am sure the folks over at Football Outsiders would have put their F+ rating at 100 percent if their metrics allowed them to. You know it. I know it. FAU head coach Lane Kiffin knows it.

Last week on a South Florida radio show, he very bluntly explained what the one overriding benefit was of taking his clearly overmatched Owls up to Columbus.

Despite the fact that the Owls are one of the favorites to win Conference USA, you could argue that the Buckeyes would get better competition by playing an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, but that’s not really the point. This weekend, Ryan Day’s team will have their first opportunity to play against opponents that don’t know their every tendency. They will be able to test to see if all of the work that they’ve put in since Jan. 2 has paid off.

While Kiffin’s team was sub-500 in 2018, they were pretty good in his first campaign in 2017, going 11-3. And coming into this season, their quarterback situation is somewhat similar to Ohio State’s. While this will Chris Robison’s second year at FAU, he is a sophomore transfer. After being a four-star recruit, he redshirted at Oklahoma before joining Kiffin in Florida.

Last season, he was 192-for-304 (63.2%) for 2,540 yards, with 12 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Technically, Kiffin has not yet named him the starter, as he has had to work his way back from some off-field issues and a spring suspension. But, it is believed that he has done enough to reclaim the starting spot over Nick Tronti and Justin Agner.

Ohio State fans shouldn’t expect great competition on Saturday (not that they’ll mind), but I do think that Kiffin is a smart enough offensive mind to give us a decent look as to how much OSU’s defense has improved from last year. It won’t tell us if they can stop the best offenses in the conference or country, but it should at least show if things are moving in the right direction.

Score Prediction: 52-13

Cincinnati Bearcats

Saturday, September 7 @ 12 noon ET | ABC
2018 record: 11-2, 6-2 American Athletic Conference
F+: 91%

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Part of me is really looking forward to this game, and part of me is dreading it. The former part all has to do with the return of Luke Fickell and all of the fond memories that I have for him as a player and a coach. Whether he’s wearing scarlet and gray or red and black, Coach Fickell is the best of what a Buckeye should be.

However, the part of me that is dreading the matchup has to do with the fact that Coach Fickell is the best of what a Buckeye should be, but he is now leading the Bearcats into Ohio Stadium.

From a talent perspective, OSU has a tremendous advantage, but there is something to be said about the “little brother chip on your shoulder.” Looks what happened in 2002 when the Buckeyes slipped past the Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium 23-19 en route to the national title.

Many of the players on UC grew up wishing that they’d be recruited by OSU. In most cases, they weren’t (despite a handful of former Buckeyes on the roster). That’s some extra motivation.

In general, Ohio State is the most beloved college program in the state of Ohio, except for in the southwest corner that views the Buckeyes’ place of dominance as an affront to the Queen City’s independence. That’s some extra motivation.

Fickell is a beloved figure for multiple generations of Ohio State fans, in no small part because of how he understands what it means to be a Buckeye. He can now turn that insight into inspiration for his underdog team. That’s some extra motivation.

Now, I’m not picking UC to upset Ohio State, and if football was a game where the most talented team always won, then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But, between my respect for Luke Fickell and the interesting dynamics at play between the Bearcats (and Cincy at large) and Ohio State, I think a bit more caution than normal is appropriate for this one.

Score Prediction: 42-13

@ Indiana Hoosiers

Saturday, September 14 @ 12 noon ET | FOX
2018 record: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten Conference
F+: 90%

NCAA Football: Purdue at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In Week 3, the Buckeyes will have a temporary break from their non-conference schedule to open up the Big Ten portion of their slate on the road in Bloomington, Ind. And while former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is still OSU’s offensive coordinator, I don’t think that he will bring quite the motivational edge that Fick will in the previous week.

Earlier this week, the always excitable Indiana head coach Tom Allen announced that redshirt freshman Michael Penix would be the team’s starting quarterback, at least for this weekend’s game against Ball State.

He is replacing Peyton Ramsey, who had been the starter last season, but will now open the season as the backup. Technically, the IU media guide has him listed as the “Or” starter, but there’s only one QB, so Ramsey’s the backup. That means that unless Penix really lays an egg against the Fighting David Lettermans or Eastern Illinois, that the freshman will get his first taste of B1G football as a starter against the Buckeyes. He did play a bit last year, but his only conference action was against Penn State, a game in which he tore his ACL, ending his season.

Fortunately for Penix, the game against the Buckeyes is at home, but it is still a game against the Buckeyes in your first conference start. I do not envy him.

Score Prediction: 41-9

Miami (OH) Redhawks

Saturday, September 21 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 6-6, 6-2 Mid-American Conference
F+: 99%

NCAA Football: St. Petersburg Bowl-Miami (Ohio) at Mississippi State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being just 118.5 miles apart, Ohio State and Miami University have only played football games against each other five times in the past. The first was in 1904 — an 80-0 win for OSU.

Those 80 points are exactly double what the (now) Redhawks have scored in total in the 115 year series. However, to keep the math train going, the Buckeyes’ margin of victory has also grow exponentially over the past three meetings (the ones in which Miami has scored).

Ohio State won by 11 in 2000, then by 20 in 2005, and in the last meeting in 2012, the Buckeyes won by a 46-point margin.

So, according to my calculations, this year, Ohio State will beat Miami by (checks abacus) roughly 92 points. That’s just math.

Score Prediction: 98-6

@ Nebraska Cornhuskers

Saturday, September 28 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten Conference
F+: 88%

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, here’s where things start to get interesting for the Buckeyes. Nebraska has finished 4-8 each of the last two seasons, but despite that fact, they are ranked 24th in the initial AP Poll of the 2019 campaign.

And while normally I would love to mock the national media for buying into the sudden return of a once-powerful blue blood program, despite all of the on-field evidence to the contrary (looking at you TTUN), I kind of get this one.

There is no doubt that Scott Frost is a coach with tons of talent and charisma — not to mention that he won the 2017 National Championship while coaching the UCF Knights. Frost is turning his alma mater around in impressive fashion, in no small part due to the play of his fleet-footed, dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez.

In 2018, the true freshman threw for 2,617 yards, 17 touchdowns, and eight intercepts, while also rushing for 629 yards and eight more TDs. In the Buckeyes’ 33-22 victory over the Huskers in the ‘Shoe last year, Martinez accounted for 338 total yards and three scores.

He is now a year older, his No. 1 receiver JD Spielman (the nephew of OSU legend Chris Spielman) is now a junior, and they are hosting the Buckeyes in Lincoln this season.

This has been a trendy upset pick for many folks, including some on the LGHL staff, and I get it; they are a scary team. When you have a QB as dynamic as Martinez, anything can happen, but I am of the mindset that — until proven otherwise — they are all hat and no cattle. Or at least, mostly hat, a steer and two jersey cows.

There is definitely something promising happening in Lincoln, but until that excitement manifests itself into wins on the field, I am putting Frost into the same category as Kaptain Khakis; compelling coaches that fans and the media want to be good, but just aren’t there yet.

Score Prediction: 45-24

Michigan State Spartans

Saturday, October 5 @ 7:30 p.m. ET | ABC/ESPN
2018 record: 7-6, 5-4 Big Ten Conference
F+: 83%

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As cantankerous as former Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio can be, his Michigan State defenses are often just as nasty. So, the fact that the Buckeyes are hosting Sparty during the sixth week of the season would seem to be a good thing.

Fans should anticipate at least a few growing pains from the Buckeyes’ new starting quarterback Justin Fields, especially since he is playing behind a newly formed offensive line. However, after five games, much of that unfamiliarity should be worked out. Of course that doesn’t mean that Fields and company will be perfect, but it does mean that they should be prepared for the test that MSU’s defense will almost certainly offer.

The question, as it often is with Michigan State, will be whether their offense can put up enough points to win. Ninth-year starting quarterback Brian Lewerke says that after dealing with arm injuries throughout 2018, that he is back to being 100 percent. Whether that’s a good thing or not is yet to be determined.

Throwing for 2,040 yards on 339 attempts, Lewerke is never going to be a QB who sets the world on fire. And since he is joined in the backfield by junior running back Connor Heyward, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry on 118 attempts in 2018, that’s about the most Michigan State backfield as you can imagine.

Solid, but nothing special. Yeoman, but not impressive. I tend to think that OSU’s offense will have just too many weapons for Sparty’s defense to shut them down completely, which means that Lewerke and Heyward would need to carry the day for MSU to win, and I just can’t foresee that happening.

Score Prediction: 38-15

@Northwestern Wildcats

Friday, October 18 @ 8:30 p.m. ET | FS1
2018 record: 9-5, 8-1 Big Ten Conference
F+: 87%

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”



Sorry, I got carried away there a little bit.

For some reason that doesn’t make sense to anyone other than Jim Delaney and the execs over at FOX, the Big Ten is having teams play under the Friday night lights this season. So off of a bye, the Buckeyes have earned a 2018 Big Ten Championship Game rematch on Friday night in the friendly confines of Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.

I don’t know of any football fan that doesn’t respect the work that Pat Fitzgerald has done at Northwestern, but despite last year’s B1G West title, they still haven’t fully ascended to the top-tier of the conference’s hierarchy.

Coming into Saturday’s season opener against Stanford, Coach Fitz has yet to name a starting quarterback, as it is currently between Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson and former walk-on TJ Green. Johnson is the more talented of the two, and the one that I would expect to eventually win the job, but Green is the gritty veteran who so exemplifies Northwestern football.

Even though I expect the 2019 version to be similar to last year’s game in Indianapolis, I am kind of excited to see what type of atmosphere there will be on the banks of Lake Michigan on a Friday night.

Score Prediction: 49-24

Wisconsin Badgers

Saturday, October 26 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 8-4, 5-4 Big Ten Conference
F+: 71%

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A few times in this column, I’ve referenced players being exemplars of their programs. Until now, that’s been a bit of a backhanded compliment, but when I say that Jonathan Taylor is the epitome of Wisconsin football, I mean that in the absolute best possible way.

He is a workhorse running back who is tough, fast, looks for contact, and keeps on going. I’m not sure which of his stats from 2018 are more ridiculous; that he ran for 2,194 yards? Or that he had 307 rushing attempts? Or the fact that putting those two stats together means that he averaged 7.1 yards per carry running the ball that much. That is inhuman.

No matter who the coach has been in Madison — Barry, Bert, Barry again, that guy who randomly left for Oregon State and was fired two years later, Barry again again, or Paul Chryst — the game plan is always the same; run the ball until you can’t run it any more, and then run it more anyway.

That being typed, the Buckeyes and Badgers didn’t meet in 2019, but in Taylor’s freshman season — which saw him go for 1,977 yards on 299 carries, mind you — OSU held the back to 41 yards on 15 carries in the B1G Championship Game. Granted, that was a much different Buckeye defense, and Taylor has only gotten better since then, but he can be stopped, and the Buckeyes already have a template to do it.

Score Prediction: 32-26

Maryland Terrapins

Saturday, November 9 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 5-7, 3-6 Big Ten Conference
F+: 98%

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Buckeyes’ second bye/open week of the season, they will play the first of two “get healthy” games against Big Ten East foes when Maryland comes to town. You might have heard about the off-season pissing match between new Terp head coach Mike Locksley and former Alabama colleague Josh Gattis (more on him later).

Well, that’s probably all of the drama that you’re gonna get out of Maryland, at least in regards to Ohio State.

Score Prediction: 52-19

@ Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Saturday, November 16 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 1-11, 0-9 Big Ten Conference
F+: 99%

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This game will have a ton of historical significance. One hundred and 50 years ago, Rutgers beat New Jersey (later known as Princeton) in the first over college football game 6-4 (see, they belong in the B1G). Twenty years later The Ohio State University began its college football endeavors.

The subsequent century-plus of gridiron action has been remarkably divergent for these now divisional foes, but 2019 feels like it will be the culmination of something special. The two squads have meet each of the last five seasons with OSU outscoring the Piscataway Knights by a combined score of 271-27. In fact, Rutgers hasn’t scored a touchdown in the three most recent meetings, while ending a two-shutout skid with a single field goal in 2018.

So, in honor of both the benchmark seasons for both schools and the historic nature of the rivalry, I think that it’s safe to put this one in the Buckeyes’ column.

Score Prediction: 130-0

Penn State Nittany Lions

Saturday, November 23 | Time: TBA | TV: TBA
2018 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten Conference
F+: 70%

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Kentucky vs Penn State Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

What a strange ride it’s been with the Nittany Lions over the last few years. The obnoxious special teams fiasco that was the 2016 game; the two comeback, one-point wins in 2017 and ‘18. Those will take years off of your life.

This season though is a little more up in the air, because gone is the latest in a long line of gritty PSU quarterbacks, Trace McSorley, and in his place is junior Sean Clifford. In his two years in State College, Clifford has thrown a grand total of seven passes (completing five) for two touchdowns.

Now, given Justin Fields’ limited experience, I am not going to immediately write off Clifford, but I do think that much of the success that James Franklin has had with PSU has been because of the dual-threat ability and 22 years of college football experience that McSorley brought to the table.

Without him, I imagine that they will look very much like Penn State; a talented, tough-nosed team without a playmaker to put points on the board. Perhaps this is me looking at the schedule through my scarlet and gray colored glasses, but I think that Franklin and PSU will revert back to the mean this season.

Score Prediction: 36-18

@ The Team Up North

Saturday, November 30 @ 12 noon ET | FOX
2018 record: 10-3, 8-1 Big Ten Conference
F+: 49%

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, if you haven’t heard, this is Michigan’s year. I mean, if Kaptain Khakis can’t beat Ohio State when they have a transfer, first-time starting quarterback and a head coach in his first season, when is it gonna happen?

Honestly, hopefully never. While I’m no statistical genius — or even statistical understander — I do get that the Law of Large Numbers would indicate that some year the blind dog that is M*ch*g*n football will eventually find a bone in the greatest of all sporting rivalries.

I just don’t think that it is going to be this year. Yes, I understand that Football Outsiders’ F+ has them as the slightest of favorites, but I think that there is going to be some growing pains as TTUN adjusts to new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ scheme, and these aren’t the types of growing pains that Fields and the OSU offensive line will be going through at the beginning of the season.

Those are adjustments of familiarity, what the Wolverines will be doing is trying to fit a three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust peg into a spread-pass-heavy hole. Screech Powers’ cousin has held firm to the notion of the old Big Ten way of playing football, often poopooing the more modern advancements in the sport.

While finally bringing his coaching philosophy into at least the 20th Century, his four years of recruiting has built up a roster of players that is still mostly comprised of talent built for an era before the forward pass was made legal.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe just a little, but the talent gap is still decidedly in Ohio State’s favor, and I think that even with Meyer’s retirement, they still have a marked coaching advantage. It also doesn’t hurt to have poached two of TTUN’s top defensive assistants either.

Score Prediction: 62-39 sorry, that was last year’s score, just in case you forgot. This year’s I’ll go with a much nicer 69-0.

Predicted Record: 12-0
Predicted Combined Score: 684-167
Predicted Average Score: 57.0-13.9
Predicted Likelihood of this All Happening: 0.0001%