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Column: Ohio State’s Big Ten schedule will do them no favors

The Buckeyes are on the road most weekends, and won’t welcome several Big Ten contenders to Columbus until next year.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Comprised of 14 schools, the Big Ten Conference is the second-largest power conference in the nation, behind only the ACC (15). The Big Ten is also one of the only conferences in the nation to follow a 20-game conference schedule, which cuts into the non-conference slate earlier and provides its member institutions with NCAA Tournament fodder that other conferences cannot match.

But a 20-game conference slate doesn’t divide evenly with 14 schools. Simple math tells you that each team will play every other team at least once, but then each team will play seven of those teams a second time as well. The other six? Well, you’ll only play them once. Ideally, for those single-match teams, you get the best teams at home and you get the weaker teams on the road.

Yeah, that’s not exactly how it worked out for the Buckeyes for the 2022-23 season. Back in June, Ohio State’s home and road matchups were released, and they very clearly drew the short end of the stick. Home and road matchups are determined on a rotating basis, so it’s not like the Big Ten just decided to shaft the Buckeyes intentionally. But still, the draw isn’t great for a team with so many new faces.

It’s still a little early for a full Big Ten breakdown, but the three teams that most people expect to win the Big Ten this year are Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Coincidentally, the two teams that typically draw the most fans when they come to Columbus are Michigan and Indiana. So let’s take a look at where the Buckeyes will face these teams:

Michigan: In Ann Arbor on Sunday, Feb. 5
Indiana: In Bloomington on Saturday, Jan. 28
Illinois: In Champaign on Tuesday, Jan. 24, In Columbus on Sunday, February 26

So the two biggest draws for Ohio State fans — Michigan and Indiana — will not play in Columbus this season. Additionally, Michigan and Indiana could very well end up being the top two teams in the Big Ten by season’s end, and the Buckeyes only opportunity to beat those teams will be on the road, in unfriendly territory, on primetime TV. Cool.

As for Illinois, the ideal situation would be that you draw them as one of your three “home only” matchups. That did not happen, as the Buckeyes will travel to Illinois in January and get a return trip from the Illini in late February. Not the best possible outcome, but at least Ohio State gets a crack at them at home.

Ohio State’s other road-only matchup is Nebraska, which is good. The Huskers will be a bottom-three team in the Big Ten again, so if you’re going to only play them once, you might as well go on the road. Save the extra home games for a tougher team.

Now, let’s take a look at Ohio State’s “home only” matchups. To be very clear, if you’re only going to face a team one time — which could have repercussions in the standings, especially in tiebreakers — you want it to be at home. If the Buckeyes only play a team one time and want the tiebreaker over them, they’ll want those teams to play them at home. So ideally, your “home only” games are against good teams. A “bad” draw here is if you wind up playing lower-level teams at home only, because that means more tough road games against contenders.

Ohio State’s home-only matchups are:

Minnesota on Thursday, Jan. 12
Wisconsin on Thursday, Feb. 2
Penn State on Thursday, Feb. 23

Okay, so not ideal. Minnesota has a great chance to come in last place in the B1G, while Penn State is going to be an NCAA Bubble team at best. On paper Wisconsin doesn’t look great, but I said that last year too and then they won the Big Ten. Odds are they won’t repeat, but they’ll be solid.

Now let’s look at something that in all honesty impacts the fans more than the team, but still definitely has an impact on the team. ‘

Everyone loves a good weekend afternoon game, am I right? Noon tipoff on FOX or CBS, with Gus Johnson or maybe Bill Raftery on the call? Maybe the occasional ESPN game with the legend Dickie V courtside? I think I speak for all fans when I say that weekend games are the best — they’re the most convenient to drive to, you can schedule the rest of your weekend around them, and you almost always get home at a decent time. There’s a reason these games draw more fans than games during the week.

On the players’ side, weekend game are nice because the game is the only thing you have to worry about that day. Mainly, you don’t have class or other academic commitments early in the day with a game to follow. For a noon game on Sunday, the team will probably roll up to the arena around 8am for breakfast and slowly prepare for their game.

So ideally, you get a bunch of weekend games at home against top-tier opponents. The team will be better rested, and more importantly the crowd will be larger and more into it, giving the home team an energy boost.

So let’s take a look at how many weekend afternoon games the Buckeyes have this season at home:

St. Francis on Saturday, Dec. 3
Iowa on Saturday, Jan. 21 — Time TBA, could also end up being a night game
Michigan State on Sunday, Feb. 12
Illinois on Sunday, Feb. 26

And here’s how many weekend afternoon games the Buckeyes have on the road:

At Maryland on Sunday, Jan. 8 — Time TBA, could also end up being a night game
At Rutgers on Sunday, Jan. 15 — Time TBA, could also end up being a night game
At Michigan on Sunday, Feb. 5
At Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 19
At Michigan State on Saturday, Mar. 4

So just for the purpose of getting more butts in seats, the Big Ten did not do Ohio State any favors. Hell, this year’s Senior Day is on a Wednesday night against Maryland. Not only does Ohio State not get a traditional weekend afternoon for Senior Day, it also isn’t going to be against one of their traditional “rivals” like Michigan, Michigan State, or Indiana. We’ll see what kind of crowd that will draw.

As far as the order of the games, the toughest stretch looks like it will be from Jan. 24 to Feb. 5. The Buckeyes have four games during that 12-day stretch, with three of the four coming on the road against the three teams expected to finish top three in the conference.

With only four returnees and seven underclassmen on the roster, the Buckeyes won’t have a ton of time to shake off the rust, nor will they have much room for error in a grueling Big Ten Schedule. Nobody will feel bad for them because of their brutal schedule — they get 20 games, just like everyone else. But when you break it down, Ohio State really caught some bad breaks with how the 2022-23 Big Ten schedule shook out. We’ll see how the coaching staff navigates what is certain to be a challenging season!