On Wednesday morning, the Big Ten finally released its new conference-only schedule. While this by no means guarantees that football will be played this fall, it is certainly a huge step in the right direction. Plus, it just feels a whole lot better to see Ohio State with a list of opponents on the docket.
The 10-game slate features a bunch of very interesting matchups, including rematches with Purdue and Iowa, as well as the Michigan game somewhat oddly being moved to October. Also of note, the Buckeyes will open up the 2020 campaign on a Thursday night, with the matchup against Illinois on Sept. 3 functioning as the season opener for the conference.
We’ll get a lot more in depth in terms of previewing each opponent during the actual game week here at LGHL, but with set matchups now in the tentative future, let’s take a quick tour through Ohio State’s 2020 schedule.
Game 1 (9/3): Ohio State at Illinois
You likely remember one of last years biggest upsets in the Big Ten when an unranked Illinois took down No. 6-ranked Wisconsin (unfortunately coming the week before the Badgers played Ohio State and hurting the strength of that win). The Illini will be looking for an even bigger upset this season when they open the year on a Thursday night in Champaign against the Buckeyes.
On offense, Illinois returns quarterback Brandon Peters, who threw for over 1,800 yards with 18 TDs and eight picks in 2019. Now heading into his senior season, Peters will have his top receiving threat returning in 2020 as well in Josh Imatorbhebhe, who lead the team with over 630 receiving yards last season despite missing the team’s final three games with an injury. On defense, the Illini return one of the Big Ten’s best tacklers in Jake Hansen. Now a senior, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker has racked up over 160 tackles over the past two seasons.
It’s the first game of the year, so I guess anything really could happen. However, I see the Buckeyes being heavy favorites in this primetime road matchup. Illinois finished with a 6-7 record last season, and although there are many who like the direction Lovie Smith has the program heading, I don't think they are quite ready to compete at Ohio State’s level just yet.
Game 2 (9/12): Ohio State vs. Rutgers
I mean, this is just a really raw deal for the Scarlet Knights. Not only does first-year head coach Greg Schiano have to take his boys on the road to Columbus to take on Ohio State in week two, but they do so with the Buckeyes having an extra three days to prepare after their Thursday night game. As if Ryan Day needed an additional advantage against lowly ole Rutgers.
There wasn’t a whole lot to like about the Scarlet Knights’ offense in 2019, which finished second-to-last in the nation in both total yards and scoring. However, they will be returning one of the lone bright spots in running back Isaiah Pacheco. He led the team a year ago with 729 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, which is especially impressive given the team was down a bunch on most occasions and had to throw a ton to try and get back in it. On defense, they feature linebacker Tyshon Fogg, who led the team in tackles last season with 93 and is as reliable a force up the middle as they come.
As usual, Rutgers is pegged by the majority of folks to finish dead last in the Big Ten. Schiano may have some luck recruiting New Jersey better in the future and at least making the Scarlet Knights into a somewhat competitive opponent in the coming years, but it would be a damn miracle to see it happen in year one. Bucks by a million.
Game 3 (9/19): Ohio State at Purdue
Doesn’t just reading the words “at Purdue” bring up the worst of memories? In week three, the Buckeyes will be looking to avenge their season-killing loss from 2018, when they shockingly fell 49-20 to the Boilermakers in West Lafayette. Ryan Day was just a QB coach back in those days, and he will now seek revenge in his second go-around against Purdue.
As we’ve all been made well aware by now, the Boilermaker’s top player on offense is Rondale Moore. One of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football, Moore absolutely demolished Ohio State’s defense in their last meeting (thanks largely to some highly questionable schemes) to the tune of 12 catches for 170 yards and two TDs. On defense, Purdue is hoping to see the continued rise of defensive end George Karlaftis, who put up a team-high 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 2019 as a true freshman.
While most of the offensive starters from that 2018 meeting are now gone, there are still a good amount of defensive players on Ohio State’s roster that probably have a good memory of the beat down they received on that field. The Buckeyes should be well rested coming into this game after likely benching the starters at half against Rutgers, and should be chomping at the bit to get this one going. Expect Shaun Wade to shadow Moore this time, resulting in a much better result on the scoreboard.
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this was written, Rondale Moore opted out of the 2020 season.
Game 4 (9/26): Ohio State vs. Indiana
Ohio State will then return home to face Indiana, whom many don't quite know how to prognosticate in 2020. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they open up their season with an absolute gauntlet, having to face Wisconsin and Penn State right off the bat followed by a slight break against Illinois and then the Buckeyes the following week.
The biggest player to watch out for on offense is quarterback Michael Penix. He was very highly regarded a year ago as a redshirt freshman, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes for almost 1,400 yards with 10 TDs and four picks before. Unfortunately, he was banged up much of the year and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the team’s game against Northwestern, but is now healthy and ready to go. On defense, the Hoosiers return Micah McFadden, who led the team a year ago with 60 total tackles and nine tackles for loss from his linebacker spot.
Indiana is still an up-and-coming bunch, and I think they will give at least one of the big dogs in the Big Ten a scare this year (~cough cough~ Michigan ~cough~). They finished 8-5 last season, and Tom Allen has done a really nice job in Bloomington thus far. Penix is very good and is only going to get better, but Ohio State will be up for the task knowing they can relax a bit afterwards with a bye the following week.
Game 5 (10/10): Ohio State vs. Nebraska
When these two teams met last year in Lincoln, many had pegged it as the dreaded West division trap game that Ohio State had fallen victim to the previous two seasons. That was not exactly the case. The Buckeyes thoroughly dominated the Cornhuskers 48-7 as Justin Fields put up nearly 300 total yards and three total TDs while the OSU defense picked off Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez three times. Ryan Day gets to play host this time around, with his team coming off a bye the week prior.
Martinez was not great in 2019, and as a result the Huskers did not meet expectations in year two under Scott Frost. He finished the year completing under 60 percent of his passes for around 1,960 yards with 10 TDs and nine interceptions, while rushing for an additional 626 and seven scores. Martinez was banged up a bit at times last year, and is hoping that improved health in this his junior season will lead to better results. Nebraska will be tasked with replacing a lot up front on defense this year, but the secondary has a ton of talent including the likes of Dicaprio Bootle, who started at both corner and safety last season.
Entering the 2019 season, Martinez was actually tied with Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts for the third-highest preseason Heisman Trophy odds at +600. This year, Fields is second (behind only Trevor Lawrence, according to Odds Shark) at +400, and Martinez is near the bottom of the list at +7500. At lot can change in a year, and if the Huskers want to be successful in 2020, they will need Martinez to find the form everyone expected to see last season.
Game 6 (10/17): Ohio State at Michigan State
The Spartans have really fallen off in the last few years, and after a 7-6 finish in 2019, longtime head coach Mark Dantonio finally decided to call it quits. This will be the program’s first season under former Colorado head coach Mel Tucker, whose team has a tough start to the season with an opener against Minnesota and back-to-back games against Penn State and Michigan two weeks later. Fortunately for Tucker, his team then gets a bye week before taking on the Buckeyes.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke is now gone — after what felt like a 10-year career at MSU — and it is unclear who will start in his place. It will likely be a battle between junior Rocky Lombardi, who was shaky in mop up duty last season, and sophomore Theo Day, who possesses good size and arm strength but threw just three passes last year. They do, however, return running back Elijah Collins, who ran for 988 yards as a redshirt freshman. The defense lost a bunch of production from last season, but does return the team’s leading tackler in senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons, who posted 90 tackles with 15 for loss in 2019.
My nervousness for this becoming a trap game in East Lansing will be based on how the Spartans perform through their first five games. If Tucker is able to lead his guys to wins over Minnesota, Penn State or Michigan, then Ohio State will have to make sure they don't fall victim on the road. However, this Michigan State team has had some glaring issues for multiple years now, and so it appears unlikely they can challenge the Buckeyes just yet.
Game 7 (10/24): Ohio State vs Michigan
The decision to move this game to the end of October is a puzzling one to me. If you were worried about the season being cancelled before the end of the year as a result of COVID-19, then why not put The Game in the first few weeks of the season? If you are confident enough that the season will make it this far in, then why not just leave it as the final game on the calendar? Either way, Jim Harbaugh already pissed off Ryan Day during the Big Ten teleconference, so this should be a good one.
Michigan’s offense is still unsure of who their starting QB will be between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. Whoever it is, they will be playing behind an offensive line that is replacing four of five starters. What they do know is that they still have a pair of decent running backs in Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet, as well as their two leading receivers from a year ago in Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins. On defense, Don Brown will be hoping to see the next step in the progression for sophomore linebacker Cameron McGrone, who had 60 tackles with nine for loss and 3.5 sacks last season.
Harbaugh has a lot riding on this game. A loss would move the Wolverines head coach to 0-6 against the Buckeyes, and you have to think that his seat is getting hotter with each additional defeat at the hands of his program’s biggest rival. It will be his best chance to beat Ohio State in The Shoe yet, as there will likely be little-to-no fans allowed in attendance, but he must do so against an offense that he has had absolutely no answers for, and one which is now being led by Justin Fields in year two. Good luck.
Game 8 (10/31): Ohio State at Maryland
The Buckeyes then get a bit of a fortunate buffer between Michigan and Penn State when they take on the Terrapins on Halloween. Whereas Indiana had a tough road at the beginning, Maryland has perhaps the toughest road at the end of the year, finishing the season against Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, and Minnesota. The Terrapins have not defeated the Buckeyes in six tries since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Starting QB Josh Jackson is back for another year, but it’s a little tough to figure out who exactly he is. He had a hot start for Maryland last season, but sputtered near the end. Jackson would finish the campaign completing just over 47 percent of his passes for nearly 1,280 yards with 12 TDs and six picks. He will have the benefit of his top receiver returning in Dontay Demus Jr., who caught 41 passes for 625 yards last year. The Terrapins were dead last in the Big Ten in total defense a year ago, but they do return linebacker Ayinde Elay who ranked 12th in the conference in 2019 with 7.2 tackles per game.
Maryland is like Rutgers’ slightly older but just as confused brother. While they do actually win a few conference games each year, they are still very much trying to find their way in the Big Ten. A lot of people think Mick Locksley can really help turn this program around, but he will not be able to make magic happen just yet in year two. Ohio State will likely be at least three-touchdown favorites in this one.
Game 9 (11/7): Ohio State at Penn State
Ah, yes. The annual OSU-PSU showdown. The Nittany Lions have given the Buckeyes their biggest test each year for the past few seasons, and that is likely not going to change in 2020. Ohio State may benefit from this season’s lack of fans, as they will probably not have to travel into Penn State’s annual whiteout game (at least at full capacity). They will, however, still need to knock off James Franklin’s very talented group.
Sean Clifford returns at quarterback after throwing for over 2,600 yards and 23 TDs with seven picks a year ago while rushing for an additional 400 yards and five scores. The Nittany Lions have five guys with starting experience along the offensive line, but are lacking in wide receiver depth. Luckily, they still have star tight end Pat Freiermuth, who caught 43 passes for 507 yards and seven TDs last season. On defense, Penn State took a huge blow with the decision of Micah Parsons to opt out. Defensive end Shaka Toney (6.5 sacks last year) and safety Lamont Wade (67 tackles in 2019) will have to step up big time in his absence.
The loss of Parsons cannot be overstated for the Nittany Lions, as he was likely their best player on either side of the ball. Ohio State would’ve defeated Penn State rather handily last season had it not been for a ridiculous amount of fumbles, but Franklin’s team always seems to give OSU trouble regardless of the situation. If the Buckeyes can get out to a lead early and hold on to the ball this time, they should be able to leave Happy Valley with a win.
Game 10 (11/21): Ohio State vs. Iowa
After their second bye week of the season the week prior, Ohio State closes out its schedule with yet another Big Ten West revenge game against Iowa. Even more shocking than the loss to Purdue was the beating the Buckeyes took in Iowa City in 2017, wherein the Hawkeyes ran away with an eye-opening 55-24 win. OSU should be a bit more prepared this time around, even though very few players remain from that last meeting.
Kirk Ferentz will need to replace QB Nate Stanley, and the most likely candidate is sophomore Spencer Petras. He threw just 10 passes a year ago as Stanley’s backup, but at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he has the size and the arm talent to fit in quite nicely. Whoever starts at QB will have the luxury of playing behind an offensive line returning four starters and a deep wide receiver group. The Hawkeyes return last year’s leading receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, coming off a campaign wherein he caught 44 passes for 722 yards with five TDs. Iowa has to replace six starters on defense, and they will be hoping All-Big Ten defensive end Chauncey Gholston can really step up this year in the absence of A.J. Epenesa.
The Hawkeyes are dealing with some off-the-field issues at the moment, and while many preseason polls have them somewhere near the bottom of the Top 25, I don't see a big year in store for Iowa. They have a tough road at the end of the season, with their final four games coming against Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and finally Ohio State. There likely isn’t all that much animosity left towards Iowa from a player standpoint, but I expect Ryan Day will have his guys ready to go and finish the season strong.