Why Ohio State is in no way promised the Big Ten throne

Ohio State v Michigan
Ohio State v Michigan / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

The Big Ten is going to be one of America’s most interesting stories in 2024, and for two reasons. One is the devilish expanding it did in conference realignment that has four successful football programs heading its way, and the other is Michigan losing Jim Harbaugh to the NFL.

With the Wolverines having won the Big Ten the last three years and coming off of a perfect 15-0 season, them losing their legendary head coach not only throws the future of the conference’s crown into obscurity, but also that of all college football’s—and no one is happier about it than the Ohio State Buckeyes.

THE Ohio State University sits amongst the sport’s golden children both historically and as of late, with both a conference title and playoff push being on the to-do list year after year. However, Michigan has been the sole obstacle in its path to such glory.

Now that the face behind the program’s revival has booked it to Los Angeles, fans of the Buckeyes are surely seeing the Big Ten as ripe for OSU’s picking, headlining the school’s re-establishment as the league’s top dog. However, I’m not here without reason.

In the world of college football media, I serve as an angel of death—whenever I see parades orchestrated through misjudgment, it is my duty to strut along and rain on them, with this one being no exception to the rule. But what is it that makes Ohio State’s reinforced hype unwarranted, you may ask? Simple: The team’s schedule.

Looking at their 2024 slate, the Buckeyes have a conference lineup that is wince-worthy by even their standards, with seven of the nine games in their league play being tricky in one or more ways. Said ways include where they’re taking place, where they are on the schedule and, of course, how impressive of years the opponents in question just had. So without further ado, let's dig in.

The red flags start popping up quite early…and rapidly

The first Big Ten battle I think the Buckeyes need to circle on their calendar is their Sep. 28 one with the Michigan State Spartans, which just so happens to be their first Big Ten battle overall. Now don’t flip your lids yet OSU fans, I don’t think this one should be a loss. However, that doesn’t mean y’all should just brush it off.

Though they’ve struggled greatly in recent memory, the Spartans are big rivals of the Buckeyes, and when in East Lansing, the emotion infused in their dicey relationship is especially evident. Not only that, but with new head coach Johnathan Smith (who won at not-great Oregon State in his first HC job) in control, the task of gauging their strength is all the more problematic. Therefore, while the road trip to MSU isn’t some unavoidable loss, it's not even remotely ideal.

It’s here that I have a confession to make—I didn’t just bring up the Spartans because they make for a big road game; they are also a horrid preamble to the bear traps that Ohio State football has on the two following Saturdays: Iowa and Oregon, with the latter being on the road.

The inclusion of this upsetting pair in our discussion should need little explanation, as the Hawkeyes are coming off of a 10-win run that earned them a spot in the Big Ten title game, play some of the most physical football in the country (mainly on defense), and have a new coordinator for their ungodly offense. Meanwhile, the Ducks won 12 games, knocked on the doors of both the Pac-12 title and CFP, and have a universally chilling atmosphere in Eugene.

These guys amount to an unforgiving trio I firmly believe will test the Buckeyes so relentlessly that losing at least one of them is practically a guarantee (I especially feel that way about their visit to Oregon).

At that point, we’ve got good news and bad news; the good news is that Ohio State football will then get a much-needed bye week, but the bad news is that the tough guys keep filing in right after it.

While the toughest stretch is done, the minefield is still alive and well

Coming off the bye, we have a game very similar to the Michigan State encounter, particularly in regards to it not being a likely loss, but a wildcard coming shortly before a much bigger concern. On Oct. 26, the Buckeyes will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Columbus before trudging into Happy Valley for a showdown with Penn State that should be one of the riskiest of their year.

In their first season under Matt Rhule, the Cornhuskers were far from great, but that was also the case with his former projects at Temple and Baylor; it was after the early struggles that we saw steep turnarounds. Knowing that as they travel to The Shoe makes me think they can give Ohio State football a bit of a scare, perhaps going as far as to have the Bucks needing to pull away in the second half.

Experiencing that before a pivotal rivalry game is never helpful, and you mean to tell me that can’t be exploited by a squad like the Nittany Lions, who give them a run for their money annually and are coming off of back-to-back runs with double-digit win counts? And in an already-jarring environment like Beaver Stadium, no less? Get outta here.

In short, if the potentially improving Spartans are in prime position to loosen up Ohio State before an overbearing Iowa, I’m sure we can agree on the potentially improving Huskers getting credit for the same with a menace like Penn State on the horizon.

After PSU, the Buckeyes have a “breather” when they go back home to host Purdue, but they better enjoy that while they can, as then it’s on the road again to fight the Northwestern Wildcats—and yes, despite how some may deny it, that’s a big one as well.

On top of the meeting taking place in enemy territory, OSU has struggled with Northwestern far more than it should in the schools’ past couple of meetings, with 22-10 and 21-7 being their scores. I’m willing to give the Buckeyes a pass for the first one, as it was in the 2020 Big Ten title game, but the second was during Northwestern’s 2022 campaign…that finished 1-11.

How in the world am I supposed to look at those results, remember that the Wildcats just won eight games, and blindly assume that Ohio State’s got a road win in the bag? I can’t, so I won’t even bother trying to.

From there, Week 12 grants the Buckeyes [what should be] another rest game, as they welcome the lowly Indiana Hoosiers to Ohio Stadium, but then it’s on to the men of the hour: The Michigan Wolverines.

This game has size more than anything else—but even that goes a long way

“The Game” has always been regarded as one of college football’s greatest rivalries, and even with its overall appeal being harmed by the CFP bracket’s expansion from four teams to 12, this installment of the duel will undoubtedly meet that elite standard.

By having the outstanding privilege of playing in Columbus and last year’s loss being the closest in their ongoing streak, 2024 is indisputably the best shot the Buckeyes will have at beating the Wolverines since 2019. However, just because the odds are there doesn’t mean they’ll be fulfilled.

Simply put, it’s not a respected rivalry “just cuz;” along with the larger-than-life implications it’s had over the past several years, the hate-filled deathmatch has had a stunning amount of suspenseful finales that went down to the wire. Sure, there have been exceptions, but with both teams losing significant amounts of talent and the superior half also losing its head coach, we likely won’t see one this time around.

With that in mind, this is a go-either-way game in its truest form, so while an Ohio State football victory is well within the realm of possibility, the exact same can once again be said of an OSU defeat.

Next. NEXT . Way too-early 12-team playoff projection . dark

Ohio State’s football program has an image synonymous with the word “dominant,” so I know better than to completely write off its 2024 potential before it has the opportunity to take shape. There’s just too many question marks for me to put my money on the Buckeyes unleashing some Big Ten vengeance tour, much less shining as the conference’s leading natty contender, when they're working with nightmares like these.

So OSU, to conclude: If you don't go on to reclaim your top spot in the league this year, don’t say I didn’t warn you.