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Column: Which Power-5 conference makes the best Ohio State opponents

Some are clearly better than others.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hello everyone and hope you had a wonderful and safe Fourth of July! Friendly reminder to stop setting off fireworks every night because your animals hate it.

Given Ohio State’s recently announced home-and-home against Alabama, Brett Ludwiczak recently wrote an awesome post about the top opponents Ohio State has never played. Which obviously begs the question of who, among the 90 FBS teams the Buckeyes have played throughout their program history, that Ohio State would like another crack at. But given there are 130 teams in the FBS, it’s probably best to start the analysis at the conference level.

There are distinct attributes almost on a conference-by-conference basis which makes some opponents more intriguing than others. On that conference basis, there are some obvious winners and losers.

With the exception of Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff in 2014, arguably (yes, I’m open to discussion) the most exciting out-of-conference wins in recent history have come over Oregon (2010), Oklahoma (2016), USC (2017) and Washington (2019). The wins against Oregon and Washington came in the Rose Bowl, and that over USC in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Speaking of classics, these three matchups both had the familiar ring of a traditional Rose Bowl game which is just the best.

So let’s save the best for first:

The Pac-12

Ohio State holds a 62-26-2 record overall against Pac-12 opponents. Those 90 games are the most played by Ohio State against any other Power-5 conference.

Among particular teams, the Buckeyes have winning records against nine of 12 current teams, led by Oregon and Washington State, over whom Ohio State has a 9-0 and 8-0 advantage, respectively.

Ohio State has played a Pac-12 opponent in six of the last 10 seasons, including three times in bowl games. Of note, the Buckeyes won all three of those games (Oregon, 2015; USC, 2017; Washington, 2019).

What makes these games particularly intriguing are two things. First, the aforementioned point regarding a totally different style of play. Go figure, many teams in the Pac-12 run traditional, pass-heavy West Coast offenses. Passing attacks have benefited teams like Washington State and Oregon, who are consistently among the most potent passers in the FBS.

Next, there’s no real football basis to it, but the nostalgia of traditional Rose Bowl opponents rings strong when Ohio State plays teams like USC, Stanford and Oregon. Games like these bring generations together in a way that unites Buckeye nation and inevitably leads to higher shirt sales at Homage. Because what’s better than a vintage throwback shirt of “Ohio State vs. USC in the granddaddy of them all”?

The Big 12

The Buckeyes are 20-6-1 against the Big 12, their only losing record coming to Texas (1-2). As a conference, Ohio State has played fewer games against the Big 12 than any other conference. The Buckeyes have faced both West Virginia and TCU six times apiece, and hold a 5-1 record versus each.

Once again, the Big 12 is a conference that plays an entirely different brand of football than what Ohio State sees week-in and week-out against Big Ten opponents. The high-flying offenses and sieve-like defenses of teams like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech offer unique and exciting challenges for a program that is used to exploiting and defending the run.

Unlike the Pac-12, Ohio State doesn’t tend to face Big 12 opponents in bowl games. That’s because there are no protected bowl matchups between the two conferences, despite 10 automatic bids for the Big Ten and seven for the Big 12.

The ACC

Then there’s the ACC. With the exception of Clemson, there doesn’t feel like there are a lot of advantages to playing the ACC in football (the caveat is necessary because obviously the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in basketball might be the best crossover in college athletics). In all, the Buckeyes are 40-19-1 against schools from the ACC. Ohio State holds winning records against eight schools in the ACC, even splits with two (Miami and Virginia Tech) and are winless against two others (Florida State and Clemson).

Which brings us to a point regarding out of conference matchups, and one of the components that makes the Big Ten/ACC Challenge so great. It’s exciting to see an entire conference face off against an entire other conference. In doing so, fans get a picture of top-to-bottom conference power as well as overall prowess. It’s one of the rare glimpses into national prominence of not just conferences but relative powers of teams. For NCAA basketball, it’s crucial for understanding relative conference performance — an understanding which ultimately plays into NCAA Tournament seeding.

The SEC

Don’t be mad. By far the worst conference (IMHO) to play against is the SEC. While Ohio State actually holds a more than decent record against the conference, at 22-13-3 overall, the Buckeyes’ record against these opponents is the lowest win percentage against any Power-5 conference.

Recent history suggests that Ohio State has the edge against the SEC, given data points of bowl wins against Arkansas (2011) and Alabama (2015). Unlike the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, however, Ohio State does not typically schedule series against the SEC — the 2027-28 home-and-home against Alabama notwithstanding.

But it’s not about winning in this case - it’s about the intrigue of the matchup. Top-to-bottom, much of the SEC plays a similar style to the Big Ten: balanced offense, great defense. It’s not as exciting to see another team like the teams the Buckeyes play week-in and week-out. Sure, a win over an SEC foe would win brownie points, but apparently only if that opponent is LSU or Alabama. A loss to any other SEC opponent (especially those in the SEC East) is a black mark on the Buckeyes’ record.

Personally, I can’t stand playing the SEC, and fully-recognize I’m in the minority. People say Ohio State fans are annoying (yes, we definitely are, so we might as well own it), but the worst is playing SEC teams and putting two extremely annoying fan bases together (looking at you, Florida). While some (cough, my husband) see this aspect as a positive — a marquee matchup that’s exciting for both sides — once again, it’s like another Big Ten matchup with another impassioned group of fans, just one we don’t have to deal with every year.


The reality is that top-to-bottom, conference vs. conference arrangements are difficult in football. With so few slots of non-conference matchups, years-out scheduling for non-conference games and existing out-of-conference rivalry games that are protected (think Iowa/Iowa State, etc.), scheduling these types of matchups is nearly impossible.

You see it a little with bowl games, where you have a few teams who get racked-and-stacked against other conferences (usually the SEC). Of course, it only takes a small adjustment to throw off entire arrangements — when, for example, the SEC gets two teams in a playoff scenario or when a Big Ten champ gets left out.

The reality is that marquee matchups are difficult enough to bring to fruition on an individual basis. Ohio State’s recently agreed-upon home-and-home against Alabama isn’t scheduled until 2027-28. With that kind of far-out scheduling, it’s hard to ensure Ohio State will be facing top-tier teams when those matchups finally come around.