Ohio State Football: An Unusual Kickoff for Week One

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback J.T. Barrett
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback J.T. Barrett /

Late in the preseason, most college football talk remains about long-term potential and season predictions rather than a breakdown of Week One matchups.

That makes sense. Most teams play cupcakes in week one, out of conference, and in friendly confines.

However, the Buckeyes’ season opener on August 31st marks a far cry from the usual season kickoff. They will leave the Columbus for only the third time in the past decade on opening weekend. Additionally, the Buckeyes will open on a Thursday, their first such game since opening with Marshall two days early in 2010.

The final odd touch to this year’s opener comes in the form of the Buckeyes’ opponent: Indiana. The matchup with the Hoosiers will mark the first time in 41 years that Ohio State starts its season against a Big Ten opponent rather than exploring out of conference competition.

This strange mix of factors comes as the result of a couple of Big Ten initiatives. The conference’s second season with a nine-game slate caused Big Ten matchups to creep earlier into the season.

The conference also made a play for the Thursday spotlight owned by the SEC over recent seasons by asking the Buckeyes and Hoosiers to shift from their originally planned start on September 2nd.

All of these factors narrow the Buckeyes’ sights solely on going on the road in Week One and returning with a win.

Inducing Anxiety

Urban Meyer stated earlier this week that Ohio State began installing Indiana’s offensive and defensive sets. This marks a transition from the camp mentality to game preparation. Meyer stated:

"“[It’s] normal…We’ve been together for a long time, and it’s time to start getting ready to go play a game.”"

Not much else about this opener is normal, though, and that causes some anxiety.

Most are accustomed to powerhouses taking on an overmatched opponent in Week One (and often two and three) to warm-up for the tougher games of October and November. Seeing the Hoosiers on the schedule may not feel too different to many from the normal Powerhouse/Cupcake set-up.

Indiana has not recorded a winning season since 2007 and is generally associated with the cellar of the Big Ten. Ohio State leads the all-time series 53-2-2.

However, generalizations do not account for recent trends. Consistent improvement under Kevin Wilson led to back to back bowl appearances, and Indiana teams caused Urban Meyer problems on more than one occasion during his stellar stint in Columbus.

In 2012, the Indiana game at Memorial Stadium ended up being one of the closest calls during an undefeated season. Despite an unstoppable offense, the Buckeyes could not finish the Hoosiers. Indiana scored 22 fourth quarter points and pulled within a field goal with one minute left.

The 2015 game also featured a heavily favored Ohio State team that could not shake the Hoosiers. Again on the road to Bloomington, the Buckeye offense could not find much traction outside of Ezekiel Elliott who ran for 270 yards and three touchdowns.

The lack of all-around production saw the Buckeyes trailing in the third quarter and unable to pull away. A memorable goal line stand finally allowed Buckeye fans to breathe in a game many expected to be a route.

The 21-point margin of victory last year did not tell the whole story of the game. Ohio State’s offense struggled for long stretches. Malik Hooker’s propensity for pick sixes really served as the catalyst for covering the spread.

There should be no taking Indiana lightly this year. The Hoosiers’ defense continued their growth last year to match Kevin Wilson’s strong offenses. While Wilson now patrols the sidelines in Scarlet and Gray, the talent he brought to Bloomington remains.

Former Ohio State quarterback and all-star analyst Kirk Herbstreit said of time spent with Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow:

"“I know he’s incredibly fired up and thinks this team can be better than a year ago …He kind of had a sheepish grin about the opportunity, and the game and the year. He feels they’re going to be a surprise team in the Big Ten.”"

Buckeyes’ center Billy Price expects the same or more from this year’s Indiana matchup:

"“I expect the same thing. I know it’s the end of August and it’s a night game, but the stars are going to be aligned for another great atmosphere, especially in Bloomington. It’s going to be tough. You have to handle your business and execute on and off the field. The coaches are going to put us in a position to win.”"

Running Start

Despite all of the oddities providing cause for concern, the unusual opener also provides a lot of opportunity and excitement.

For fans, the opportunity to view a game against quality competition on week one serves as a much more satisfying kickoff than beating Bowling Green by 67 points.

For the team, the opportunity to hone their skills in Week One against a quality opponent serves as a much better springboard than beating Bowling Green by 67 points.

More from Scarlet and Game

While the virtual pre-season games offer a low risk opportunity to play at full speed, the match-ups offer the team little quality film or adversity.

The immediate chance at growth is extremely important considering the Week Two  opponent. Oklahoma will require the Buckeyes to operate at full capacity in just the second week of the season. Tuning up in a competitive game will better prepare the Buckeyes for the spotlight that will shine on their second game than trouncing a MAC school.

The peculiar Thursday matchup also helps the Buckeyes in Week Two. Two extra days of rest and preparation will help the Buckeyes be fresher and sharper against the Sooners. In a game of that magnitude, every little edge counts.

The doubleheader of Indiana and Oklahoma gives Ohio State a great opportunity to get a running start into their schedule. If everything goes as planned, the Buckeyes will enter October with both a Big Ten and a big time win. This is much more than most teams can offer on their resume at the same point.

Next: Off-Season Improvements in Spotlight Against Indiana

Indiana’s athletic director promised an electric atmosphere in Bloomington on August 31st. Despite the unusual circumstances, Ohio State has the opportunity to steal the thunder from Indiana and use the conditions to bolt in front of their competition.