Ranking Ohio State football’s 2017 schedule, easiest to hardest

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football is almost here, and the Buckeyes have an interesting slate ahead of them in 2017.

No. 7 Oklahoma comes to town in Week 2, and conference play includes games against No. 6 Penn State and No. 11 Michigan. Additionally, there are road tests against West Division foes Nebraska and Iowa.

Which games will provide the toughest tests? What follows is a ranking of Ohio State’s 2017 football schedule in order of difficulty.

12. UNLV

This was supposed to be North Carolina, but a 2017-18 home-and-home between those two schools was cancelled in 2014. Instead, the Buckeyes will host UNLV for what will almost certainly be the easiest win on the schedule. The Rebels aren’t a good football team, having gone 3-9 in 2015 and 4-7 in 2016. They’ll be playing on a three-hour time change, and they last beat a ranked team in 2008.

11. Rutgers

2014: Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17

2015: Ohio State 49, Rutgers 7

2016: Ohio State 58, Rutgers 0

10. Illinois

The Illibuck is back after a one-year absence! That’s probably the only cause for excitement in this game, however. Lovie Smith’s first season in Champaign was a disappointment at 3-9, and it doesn’t look like Illinois will be dramatically better in 2017. Given that this game is sandwiched between Michigan State and Michigan, there’s a chance we don’t see the sharpest Buckeyes team — but that won’t impact the outcome.

9. Army

It was tempting to rank this one higher, with Army forcing the Buckeyes to defend the triple option a week after the Buckeyes slug it out against Oklahoma. Let’s be real, though: Ohio State isn’t going to lose this game. Army looks competitive again, but the Black Knights aren’t close to the consistent level of play from Navy when the Midshipmen challenged the Buckeyes in 2009 and 2014.

8. Maryland

D.J. Durkin has Maryland’s program trajectory pointed in the right direction, but last season’s 62-3 thrashing showed just how big the gap is between these two programs.

7. Indiana

Indiana is going to surprise some people under Tom Allen. It just might not happen in the first game of the season with Kevin Wilson making his return to Bloomington. Still, it’s worth noting that Ohio State hasn’t looked great in two trips to Indiana under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes won 52-49 in 2012 and escaped 34-27 in 2015 after the Hoosiers had first-and-goal in the final minute.

6. Nebraska

Nebraska might not be a straight-up fraud, but at the very least it has fraudulent tendencies. After going 6-7 in 2015, the Cornhuskers played three good teams in 2016 … and got outscored 125-30. If Tanner Lee is as advertised, the Cornhuskers might prove deserving of a higher place on this list. They’ve lost their right to the benefit of the doubt, though.

5. Michigan State

Even when Michigan State was truly awful in 2016, they still almost beat the Buckeyes in a miserable game. For whatever reason, Mark Dantonio seems to know how to give Ohio State fits. The Spartans’ nightmare offseason following a 3-9 campaign makes it seem possible that the Buckeyes can put away Michigan State with ease, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

4. Iowa

Nobody thinks about boring old Iowa until all of a sudden the Hawkeyes are lining up a game-winning field goal and the entire Big Ten title scenario is turned upside down. A good way to get upset is for a talented team to make too many mistakes against an average roster that doesn’t. Heading to Iowa City — possibly at night — a week after Penn State just feels weird. Ohio State will win, but it’s not going to be fun.

3. Penn State

It’s time for the hard games! How is Penn State third on this list? Maybe I’m crazy, but I think there are favorable circumstances for Ohio State in this matchup. Meyer and the Buckeyes have dominated the Nittany Lions any time it hasn’t been a whiteout in Happy Valley. Ohio State won 63-10 in 2013 and 38-10 in 2015 in a game that was never close. The Buckeyes will be coming off an open week in 2017, too. Penn State might have the nation’s best offensive weapon in Saquon Barkley, but I need to see a bigger sample size than the six-game run the Lions went on at the end of 2016 before I’m a true believer.

2. Oklahoma

It’s easy to write off Oklahoma after the Sooners lost 45-24 to the Buckeyes in 2016, and even easier after realizing they lost star running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine and leading receiver Dede Westbrook, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Oh, and national championship-winning coach Bob Stoops. Him, too. And the game is in Columbus.

There are arguments in Oklahoma’s favor, though. The Sooners recruit as well as almost anyone, so they’ll have replacements for those departed players. Five of Ohio State’s six touchdowns in last season’s game belonged to players now in the NFL, so it’s not as if the Buckeyes didn’t also lose talent. Baker Mayfield is back for one last season, giving Oklahoma a huge weapon at the most important position. New coach Lincoln Riley is an offensive mastermind viewed as a rising star. A win against the Buckeyes isn’t likely, but it’s on the table.

1. Michigan

If anyone should know that it’s possible to lose talent and still be fine, it’s Ohio State fans. Everything people are questioning about 2017 Michigan was said about the Buckeyes last year — and they promptly went 11-1 in the regular season and made the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines have recruited extremely well the last few cycles, and Jim Harbaugh has gone 20-6 in two seasons after inheriting a smoldering crater.

Ohio State has played a little tight against Michigan pretty much every season under Meyer except 2015, so that’s worth noting. And even if the Wolverines start slow, those young but talented players will have time to figure out things before hosting the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale.

The post Ranking Ohio State football’s 2017 schedule, easiest to hardest appeared first on Land of 10.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.