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Ohio State’s 2021 schedule sets up practically perfectly for another national title run

A soft middle part of the schedule should help a first-year starter.

“Mary Poppins” Film Still Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

We are now 10 days removed from the exceedingly disappointing performance from the Ohio State Buckeyes in the National Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. But now that the dust has settled and we know (for the most part) who is — and isn’t — coming back for another year in Columbus, it feels like it is almost past time to start analyzing what the road to redemption will look like for Ryan Day’s Buckeyes. And, to paraphrase the world’s most magical nanny, looking at the schedule, it is practically perfectly set up for OSU to make another run at the national title.

Obviously when losing arguably the most talented quarterback in program history, there will be some growing pains, whomever ends up behind center to start the ‘21 season. But, in my estimation, the Buckeyes retained far more talent than I anticipated that they would, and that bodes well for what we should see this fall.

(Check out Gene Ross’ “way-too-early depth chart” for more on next season’s roster.)

Speaking of the fall, we are roughly a year-ish into this global pandemic, and while I have tried over the past 10 months, since lockdowns and quarantining began, not to look too far ahead, it seems fairly obvious to me that either through vaccines or stubbornness, college football will be played more or less like normal come September. So take that spoonful of sugar however you would like.

Now, there might still be social distancing rules still in place come September, and teams might still have to go through rigorous testing, but in terms of the schedule of what gets put onto the field, I think we are going to eventually see what we had long expected to see from the 2021 campaign. So, barring further catastrophic developments, the Buckeyes’ 2021 regular season schedule will be as follows:

Ohio State 2021 Regular Season Schedule

Date Opponent 2020 Record Location
Date Opponent 2020 Record Location
Thursday, Sept. 2 Minnesota 3-4 Minneapolis, Minn.
Saturday, Sept. 11 Oregon 4-3 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Sept. 18 Tulsa 6-3 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Sept. 25 Akron 1-5 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Oct. 2 Nebraska 3-5 Lincoln, Neb.
Saturday, Oct. 9 Purdue 2-4 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Oct. 16 OPEN WEEK N/A N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 Rutgers 3-6 Piscataway, N.J.
Saturday, Oct. 30 Michigan State 2-5 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Nov. 6 Indiana 6-2 Bloomington, Ind.
Saturday, Nov. 13 Maryland 2-3 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Nov. 20 Penn State 4-5 Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Nov. 27 TTUN 2-4 Ann Arbor (is a whore)

Thanks in no small part to the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, it’s a little challenging to accurately judge teams based solely on their 2020 performance, but when you look at the schedule, one thing should jump out to you pretty quickly, and that is that the Buckeyes are only scheduled to play three teams in 2021 who will be coming off of seasons with winning records (Oregon, Tulsa, Indiana).

In fairness, conference-only schedules make it more difficult for Power Five teams to wrack up the wins that they would in a normal season — with schedules front-loaded with Group of Five teams — so B1G teams just under .500 would likely be one to three games above it in a regular season. Then there’s the fact that a number of teams on OSU’s 2021 schedule bizarrely underachieved last season and will likely turn things around to some degree this fall (Penn State, Michigan). However, I do love to laugh at their 2020 failures.

So, with all of those caveats out of the way, how the OSU schedule is constructed seems like it lines up almost perfectly for the specifics of the 2021 Buckeye team. With Justin Fields’ unsurprising departure for the NFL Draft, Day will be turning the keys to his offense over to a freshman, first-year starter; whether or not said starter is a true-freshman or redshirt-freshman is still yet to be determined.

First year Buckeyes C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller both saw action in relief of Fields in 2020; and both scored a touchdown, albeit on the ground. However, because of the peculiarities of the season, neither threw a single pass this past fall, negating much of the advantage that they should have over incoming freshman Kyle McCord. All three QBs were highly recruited at some point during their recruiting processes. While McCord (25) and Stroud (42) finished in the top-50 players in their respective classes, due to injuries, Miller fell from a high four-star prospect to the No. 334 player nationally when his recruiting cycle was done.

If I was being forced to handicap the quarterback competition today, I would give the edge to Stroud, since he is the highest rated player with a year of experience in Day’s offense under his belt, but nothing would really surprise me in terms of who started for OSU against the Gophers. However, whomever QB1 might be when the season opens, one thing is certain: it will be his first collegiate start, having never thrown a pass at this level.

But you know what? That doesn’t worry me; in fact, I’m so unworried that I might go fly a kite. Yes, Ohio State will have to host the Ducks in Week 2, but I think that they can out-talent Oregon and feed the birds an early season loss. However, even if a freshman quarterback in just his second career start leads to the Buckeyes dropping the game, it would just be one step (backwards) in time, since there would still be nearly three months between Sept. 11 and Dec. 5, when the College Football Playoff committee ultimately unveils the final playoff seedings.

After all, every Ohio State team that has lost to a P5, non-conference opponent in the second week of the season during the playoff era has gone on to win the national title, and you can take that to a British bank.

So, win or lose, the Buckeyes will have six games over seven weeks against middling competition to get ready for a considerably more competitive final month of the season. Tulsa is a competent G5 team, and I would expect most of the B1G teams to improve from their 2020 forms, but not enough to be considered significant challenges for the Buckeyes. Obviously we know that underdogs can beat the Buckeyes at times, but those are always surprises, and in the life I lead, I think that’s what makes them so painful.

You just can’t predict losses like that, so this nearly two-month run of games should give the new QB plenty of time to acclimate to the offense and his new responsibilities. Hopefully he will have a fairly normal spring practice, summer workouts, and fall camp to develop bonds with his receivers, so once this middle portion of the season hits, it will all be about refining and perfecting a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious offense.

From there, the month of November will feature Indiana — OSU’s biggest 2020 in-conference challenger — and an up-start Terps team before taking on their two most traditional B1G rivals in Penn State (at home) and TTUN (on the road).

Sure, perhaps you could push the Oregon game back a few weeks, or maybe move the contest against the Hoosiers from Bloomington to Columbus, but for the most part, Ohio State’s 2021 schedule is set up pretty close to perfectly in order to help a reloading Buckeyes have a jolly holiday as they prepare to head back to the College Football Playoff.