If I had to describe the national perception of Ohio State football in two words they would be, no respect. Despite a combined record of 24-0 in the past two regular seasons, the Ohio State football program has done little to impress college pundits. That lack of respect gained a lot more credibility at the end of this past season when Ohio State dropped the Big Ten Championship game to Michigan State and then came up short in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.
While I don’t think the Buckeye football program should have received as much heat as it did, going undefeated two straight regular seasons is no fluke, I don’t think they deserved a shot at the National Championship Game. The Big Ten is not what it used to be, and playing a soft non-conference schedule on top of that was not the way for the Buckeyes to earn respect. With the new playoff format in effect this upcoming season, scheduling will play a much bigger role in who is considered worthy of a playoff spot. Ohio State’s athletic director will have to do a much better job getting games against high profile non-conference teams if he hopes to bring the Buckeyes back to the national forefront.
The Buckeye’s non-conference schedules the past two seasons:
2012: vs. Miami University, vs. UCF, vs. Cal, vs. UAB
2013: vs. Buffalo, vs. San Diego State, @ Cal, vs. Florida A&M
Of the seven teams Ohio State has played out of conference the past two seasons only one team, UCF, would win 10 games in the same season they played the Buckeyes; both Buffalo and San Diego State would finish 2013 with winning records but not 10 wins. UCF and Cal are the only two teams Ohio State played from AQ (automatic qualifying) BCS conferences. Cal had a combined record of 4-20 over the past two seasons, hardly what I would consider strong competition for a championship aspiring program.
The Ohio State football non-conference schedule for the upcoming season is much more respectable then the last two seasons, but there is still room for improvement.
2014 non-conference schedule: @ Navy, vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Kent State, vs. Cincinnati
For the first time in more then a decade Ohio State starts their season away from The Shoe, and against a tough Navy team coming off a successful 2013 season where they ended with a record of 9-4. Virginia Tech and Cincinnati also finished the 2013 season with winning records.
With the Rutgers and Maryland both being placed in the Buckeyes division, Ohio State has two more guaranteed scrub teams each season. So the Buckeyes must take advantage of having a strong non-conference schedule.
Ohio State football would benefit greatly from having a tougher non-conference schedule. The players would get a look at some other top football programs. It would also benefit some of these younger players to get some exposure to some of the top conferences in college football. Playing a tough out of conference schedule would also make it harder for the critics to punch holes in their playoff resume if they are beating quality teams.
Now I understand that Buckeye fans have been spoiled over the past two seasons, winning every regular season game, but as a Buckeye fan myself I would rather them lose a few games to tough opponents then run the table against marshmallow teams. I would rather watch Ohio State face off against an ACC or SEC team then a Division II team like Florida A&M. It would also give us Buckeye fans a better understanding of how good our Ohio State football team is, instead of waiting till the post-season to find out. While this does open up an opportunity for the Buckeyes to have a much tougher time finishing the season with one of the best records in college football, I prefer it that way. If Ohio State is good enough to play for a National Championship then they should be able to play with any team in the country. So why not schedule some of those potential playoff opponents during the regular season?
College football will be forever different with the addition of a playoff system, and the Ohio State football program needs to understand that proving your worth against the best competition will be far more beneficial then beating up on the lower competition. If Ohio State truly wants to be the best football program in the country then the only way to show it is by playing and beating the other top programs. 2014 is a step in the right direction, and hopefully in the future we will see even more competitive non-conference schedules.