Now that we are almost two weeks removed from the NFL Draft, we can start to shift our focus to the 2021 Ohio State season. The Buckeyes have already been gathering information through spring practices to try and answer some of the big questions that the team will have to answer if another Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance are in the cards.
Today’s question: What game on Ohio State’s 2021 schedule are you looking forward to most?
The Buckeyes will be playing the usual Big Ten East suspects, Nebraska and Purdue from the Big Ten West, and a non-conference schedule that includes Oregon, Tulsa, and Akron.
Brett’s Take: Oregon
What should have been. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic cancel Ohio State’s trip out to Eugene to take on the Ducks last year, it also ruined my plans to head out west to watch the Bucks. Ohio State is 9-0 all-time against Oregon, and had it not been for coronavirus, the Buckeyes would have improved their record against the Ducks to 10-0.
One reason I’m most excited for this game is because it will be Ohio State’s first home game in front of fans in almost two years. While the spring game did have some fans, let’s not try and compare a glorified scrimmage to an actual game of football. No matter how many fans are allowed to attend the game, expect the fans in attendance to be loud and emotional.
Even though the season opener at Minnesota isn’t a layup for Ohio State, we should see the Buckeyes enter their home opener with a 1-0 record. The game against Oregon will give fans a better idea of where the team stands. The Ducks have some athletes who could give the Buckeyes some problems, especially after we saw some issues from the Ohio State defense last year.
While Oregon will have a new starting quarterback, Anthony Brown isn’t new to being a starter. Before transferring to Oregon, Brown threw for over 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons at Boston College. Even though Brown isn’t going to be confused with Justin Herbert or Marcus Mariota, he does have the experience to handle starting in a hostile environment like Ohio Stadium.
All the pressure will be on Ohio State in this game, and I’m curious to see how a young Buckeye team is going to handle it. C.J. Stroud is sounding like the favorite to take over as starting quarterback for Ohio State this year, but plenty could change between now and then. Stroud and the rest of the Ohio State offense can rest a little easier knowing that Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere will be returning on the offensive line to slow down Kayvon Thibodeaux and whatever else Oregon will throw at them.
As their most high-profile non-conference game this year, Ohio State needs to win this game. With much of the rest of the Big Ten struggling, the Buckeyes need every win both in and out of conference. Not only does Ohio State need to win this game, they also need to hope that Oregon goes on to win the rest of their games and put themselves in position to make the PAC-12 Championship Game.
The game against Oregon will give everyone an idea of where Ohio State could be headed this year. While a loss won’t totally eliminate the Buckeyes from the College Football Playoff race (see 2014 v. Virginia Tech), a win will go a long way in helping Ohio State get as high a seed as possible, should they make the playoff.
This game figures to be at least a 3:30 pm kickoff, and hopefully it would be a primetime kickoff. There’s nothing better than seeing big players make big plays (sorry to go all John Madden on you) under the brightest lights. Add in a big crowd returning to Ohio Stadium and it has all the makings of a classic at The Horseshoe.
Meredith’s take: Penn State
Brett - couldn’t agree more with your logic. Oregon brings all the panache we could have hoped for from an out of conference opponent in the early parts of the season. But here’s the thing: Nothing beats a Big Ten opponent — especially Penn State on Halloween weekend in what almost assuredly will be a night game in the Shoe. That kind of atmosphere can’t be beat. Plus, it feels like this year, fans will be making up for lost time.
And while the result of the Oregon game has Playoff implications, Penn State is always a must-win for the Buckeyes, who are in a constant battle with the Nittany Lions for the Big Ten title (you know, except for last year). Penn State is literally the last team not named Ohio State to win the Big Ten East — all the way back in 2016. Penn State will also be the first real test of conference play in 2021, kicking off the usual roundabout with the Nittany Lions, Michigan State and, of course, Michigan.
As you mentioned, there are other exciting conference games we have to mention. Ohio State opens the 2021 season, for example, at Minnesota on a Thursday night. It’ll be the first time we’ve had fans in stadiums for realsies since 2019. And remember that one time when Ohio State opened at Indiana on a Thursday and we all got to meet true freshman JK Dobbins? Oh, memories.
And then, of course, there’s Michigan. But it’s on the road this year, and, frankly, the Big House is eerily quiet. Not much in the way of atmosphere in a season where it feels like so much of the excitement around the schedule hinges on atmosphere.
When it comes to the actual game, Penn State will be looking for revenge. The Nittany Lions, battling injuries and opt-outs that decimated their roster, faced a fierce Ohio State team in the second game of the season in 2020 after a surprising loss to Indiana in the season opener, and fell 38-25 to the Buckeyes in a game that wasn’t as close as that score might imply. Justin Fields was near-perfect for Ohio State, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-34 passing. The Buckeyes led by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter.
It was certainly not one of the narrow, down-to-the-wire games we’ve grown accustomed to in the rivalry in recent years. In all, Ohio State holds a 21-14 advantage over Penn State, with the Buckeyes taking the last four matchups in the series.
Of course, this year will look different for Ohio State, with Fields — along with nine other draft picks on both sides of the ball — headed to the NFL. Penn State, meanwhile, will still have Sean Clifford, last year’s starting quarterback, at the helm. The Nittany Lions also return a troupe of skill position players, including wide receiver Jahan Dotson and running back Keyvone Lee, that would indicate continued momentum for a team that won four of its last five games last season.