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Burning Questions: How will Ohio State’s non-conference schedule look after CFP, Big Ten expansion?

Big changes are coming to college football in 2024, and likely the way teams schedule changes with the times.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about the most important questions yet unanswered for the season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Burning Questions” articles here.

Next year, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams. Along with conference expansion in the Big Ten and SEC going into effect, as both conferences will add two teams, college football’s non-conference scheduling is going to start looking a lot different. So what does that mean for Ohio State?

One nice thing about being a Buckeye fan is athletic director Gene Smith hasn’t been scared to schedule intriguing non-conference matchups early in the season. Since college football non-conference games are scheduled so far in advance, it’s hard to predict how good some of your opponents might be nearly a dozen years down the road. Just look at the matchups against Cal a decade ago. When they were scheduled, Cal was one of the top teams in the Pac-12, and by the time the meetings rolled around, the Golden Bears were one of the worst teams in the conference.

Ohio State A.J. Hawk SetNumber: X74179 TK1

Currently, Ohio State has one really big non-conference game per season over the next 10 years. While 2024’s non-conference schedule is ugly, 2025 and 2026 picks up with a home-and-home with Texas, and in 2027 and 2028 the Buckeyes will square off with Alabama. Currently, there is a bit of a breather in 2029, as games with Nevada and Charlotte are the only non-conference games on the schedule, but that will obviously have to change. Things pick back up again in the following four years with home-and-home games currently scheduled against Georgia in 2030 and 2031 and Oregon in 2032 and 2033.

Now the big question, is how will these games actually happen? Currently, the SEC has a requirement for the 2024 season that will see each team play eight conference games, along with one game against an opponent from the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12. Pac-12, or a major independent team. This might not extend beyond 2024, as the SEC has to figure out what it wants to do with its conference schedule beyond the first year that Oklahoma and Texas are officially members of the conference.

Ohio State’s marquee non-conference games against Texas, Alabama, and Georgia could be salvaged if the SEC decides to keep their conference schedule at eight games. However, if the SEC goes to a nine-game conference schedule, it’s hard to see teams from the conference wanting to play such a tough conference schedule, and then have a marquee game against the Buckeyes, or really against any other top-tier college football team.

Honestly, it’d be hard to fault those SEC teams if they decided to cancel their future games against the Buckeyes. What would Ohio State and those tough non-conference opponents have to gain by playing these contests? With a four-team playoff, a win in a marquee non-conference game could be the difference in making the playoff. With the playoff expanding to 12 teams, however, teams won’t have to take as many risks to secure a spot in the playoff. The only thing a tough non-conference game might be good for is it could be the difference in a debate when it comes to seeding.

While it has been fun to start off the college football season with some big non-conference games, now we might have to get used to some of those big non-conference games happening at the end of the season instead of the beginning. Starting next year, instead of three playoff games, we’ll instead have 11 CFP games, with four of those contests coming on campus. In the grand scheme of things, we might soon forget about those early non-conference games that we used to love, since those playoff games are going to mean so much more, but it will certainly change the dynamics of the first month of the season.

It’s not like I’m saying that all of those exciting non-conference early-season contests are going to go away. There will be Power 5 schools that are going to still want to challenge themselves and use a game like that to prepare for a tough playoff game later in the season. I’m also sure that television networks are going to try and push schools to schedule a little tougher so they can get as much as they can out of those giant television contracts.

Also, perhaps the pendulum swings the other way, and instead of minimizing risks because they are deemed unnecessary in the expanded-playoff era, maybe coaches and ADs decide that they have a wider margin for error because it is easier to get into the CFP and they decide to schedule more marquee matchups. I don’t think that is likely, but it could always land in the middle with the current status quo.

Maybe I’m wrong about all of this and Ohio State’s future non-conference schedule stays unchanged and they add quality in some of the lean years. It’s just hard to see things staying the same with so much around college football changing. There’s going to be more travel for the Buckeyes now that UCLA and USC are joining the Big Ten. There’s also a possibility that Ohio State could be playing a couple more games each year, depending on if they are in the Big Ten Championship Game, and where they are seeded for any playoff appearances.

If anything, I think we could see more conference games added to the schedule. I wouldn’t hate it if the Big Ten went to a 10-game conference schedule, then made a game against a Power 5 team mandatory, and the 12th game of the schedule be against a Group of Five team. Who knows, if the Big Ten added another conference game, maybe Penn State can finally get that rival that they have been waiting so patiently for.