COLUMBUS, Ohio — The patience has been tested long enough by the offseason. Thank goodness there’s no need to wait for meaningful games once the season actually starts.
This is skipping the salad and getting right to the steak. Previews are entertaining at the movie theatre, but everybody pays to see the blockbuster film. And forget preseason games like the NFL, the beauty of the sport at this level is that there’s no teasing the fans with knockoff versions of the real thing.
And now for Ohio State this season, there’s no messing around at all by diving straight into Big Ten play on Thursday night at Indiana.
Coaches might not be crazy about it. Players might not be in midseason form. Maybe conference purists won’t care for either the day of the week or putting a division game on the schedule so quickly.
But I love that there is something at stake for the Buckeyes and Hoosiers without any warmups. It might also have been an advantage for Urban Meyer, adding a sense of urgency to training camp with no margin for error when it’s over.
“All focus is on Indiana, and it has been for a while,” Meyer said. “There’s also just, you know, you have Game 2 is rather significant, then you have Army in Game 3. So, we’ve been working on that.
“It’s a complicated little schedule we have here.”
Tricky for the coaches. Entertaining for the audience.
No offense to Miami of Ohio, Buffalo or Bowling Green, but putting a conference game on opening weekend does far more to get the blood pumping. It should make it feel like more of a celebration that football is back when there’s actually something more tangible at stake instead of easing back into things with a glorified walkthrough.
Give credit where it’s due: Ohio State has already been active in upgrading its schedule outside of the league, adding some intrigue to late August and early September both now and into the future. The Buckeyes are only two years removed from opening at Virginia Tech on Labor Day, and obviously business would have picked up in a hurry this season anyway with Oklahoma on deck for a visit to the Horseshoe.
The schedule is still going to require filling out with some opponents outside of the Power 5 leagues. Army and UNLV, respectively, will be playing that role for the Buckeyes in a few weeks. And while the military teams are relentlessly competitive and difficult to prepare for, and the Mountain West Conference is a stout league, those matchups aren’t going to move the needle much.
By then, though, Ohio State might have earned a breather by already accomplishing something of consequence. Again, no offense to the Black Knights or the Rebels, but playing those games first could conceivably allow a mindset of ramping up for later challenges to creep in, which can often make those non-Big Ten affairs even more of a slog.
For obvious reasons, shaking up the schedule also figures to be good for the league’s broadcast inventory, pocketbook and exposure with impactful matchups on television sprinkled from the start of the year to the finish.
Maybe in the end it doesn’t make any difference. All the games have to be played, right? So why stress about the order? Fans are going to be watching no matter what, aren’t they?
Of course. But why wait for the good stuff if it can be served right away?
The season is here. And there’s nothing better than digging in with big-time games as soon as possible.
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