Buckeyes will be tested as soon as the season begins
As far as 2020 is concerned for the Ohio State Buckeyes, just put that season in the rearview mirror and move on. Yes, Ohio State won its fourth straight Big Ten championship. Yes, Ohio State vanquished Clemson in the Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal, helping to soothe the pains from the crushing loss to the Tigers in 2020. And of course, Ohio State competed for the national championship against Alabama, losing 52-24.
The loss to the Crimson Tide is far from the only reason why Ohio State coaches, players, and fans want to move on from 2020. The COVID-19 issues that wreaked havoc across the sporting world resulted in a canceled spring practice season, a nearly-canceled regular season that was eventually resolved in an abbreviated fashion, and three games that Ohio State was unable to play due to COVID-19 outbreaks on either the side of the Buckeyes (Nov. 28 at Illinois) or their scheduled opponent Nov. 14 at Maryland, Dec. 12 at Michigan). The loss of THE GAME loomed large for fans on both sides of that historic rivalry.
Ohio State enters 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism. The annual ritual of losing talented players to the NFL is something that Buckeyes coaches and fans have grown accustomed to, and it will be captivating to see how head coach Ryan Day and his staff mold a talented group of players with their sights set on a fifth straight Big Ten title.
Below is how the schedule breaks down for the Buckeyes in 2021.
Bye: Week 7
Week 1 – Sept. 2 at Minnesota (Minneapolis)
A rare Thursday night season opener, Ohio State will travel to Minneapolis for the first time since the 2014 season. Stranger things have happened, but it will be surprising if the Buckeyes have to play in an atmosphere that was as bitterly cold (15 degrees Fahrenheit) as it was on that day. Even if the weather is better, the Buckeyes will be challenged by a Minnesota team coming off a disappointing 3-4 season. This game will mark the debut of Ohio State's new quarterback. No matter who the player is, look for the Golden Gophers to try to confuse and rattle the Buckeyes' new signal-caller.
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. Oregon (Columbus, Ohio)
One of the casualties of the Big Ten's abbreviated 2020 season was the loss of Ohio State traveling to Oregon. Now the Ducks will make the trip to Ohio Stadium for the first time since the 1987 season, a 24-14 loss. As a matter of fact, the Buckeyes have never lost to Oregon, winning all nine previous meetings going back to the 1958 Rose Bowl (Ohio State 10, Oregon 7). Similar to Minnesota, look for the Ducks to try to stymie Ohio State's new quarterback in what promises to be one of the best non-conference games of the 2021 season.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 vs. Tulsa (Columbus, Ohio)
The Buckeyes will welcome the Golden Hurricane back to Ohio Stadium for the first time since 2016. Ohio State may have won that game handily (48-3), but the Buckeyes would be wise not to overlook a Tulsa team that went 6-3 in 2020, including a near-upset of Oklahoma State and a close, 27-24 loss to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Akron (Columbus, Ohio)
Here is where Ohio State fans will have some customary breathing room. Akron will make its first trip to Ohio Stadium since the 2011 season, a 42-0 loss that served as the debut of then-interim head coach Luke Fickell. The Buckeyes have lost to the MAC member just once (12-6 way back in 1894) and should have no problem improving to 8-1 all-time against the Zips.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
After three straight at home, Ohio State will hit the road to SHI Stadium to battle the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers showed marked improvement in 2020 in Greg Schiano's first season back at the helm, going 3-6 with wins over Michigan State, Purdue, and in overtime against Maryland. The Scarlet Knights also lost three other games by a total 16 points, including one in three overtimes to Michigan. Ohio State improved to 7-0 all-time against Rutgers with a 49-27 home win last season.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 vs. Maryland (Columbus, Ohio)
The last time these teams played, Ohio State won 73-14 at home. Last season's game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols so the divisional foes will renew acquaintances in early October. Adding to Maryland's degree of difficulty is that the Terrapins will be coming off a game against Iowa.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 at Indiana (Bloomington, Ind.)
Indiana gave Ohio State fits last season in Columbus with the Buckeyes winning 42-35. Despite the close contest, the Hoosiers have now lost 26 in a row to Ohio State, although officially it's 25 because the Buckeyes vacated the 2010 meeting. Indiana's last win (tied in 1990) in the series came back in 1998 when The Hoosiers decisively defeated Ohio State 41-7 in Bloomington in then-Ohio State head coach John Cooper's first season.
Week 9 – Oct. 30 vs. Penn State (Columbus, Ohio)
The winner of this game could be the leader in the Big Ten East with the calendar set to turn to November. Ohio State has often tried to tie in a "blackout" theme for these late October games that are close to Halloween, and it would not be surprising if this game follows suit. The Nittany Lions have played the Buckeyes tough during James Franklin's tenure, but Ohio State has won the past four meetings.
Week 10 – Nov. 6 at Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
Nebraska fans are hoping for this conference rivalry to become more competitive, as Ohio State has beaten the Cornhuskers decisively every year, except for a seven-point win in 2011. The Buckeyes will need to guard against complacency facing a Nebraska team that will be eager to improve upon last season's 3-5 showing that included a 52-17 road loss to Ohio State.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. Purdue (Columbus, Ohio)
Here is a game that Ohio State fans have been anxiously awaiting ever since the Boilermakers wrecked the Buckeyes' 2018 season by thrashing them in West Lafayette, 49-20. Ohio State has had its share of close calls against Purdue in Ohio Stadium as well, with the most notable being the come-from-behind, overtime victory in 2012. This has all the makings of a trap game for the Buckeyes.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 vs. Michigan State (Columbus, Ohio)
Ohio State has beaten Michigan State five straight times, but longtime Buckeyes fans know that promising seasons have been destroyed in November by the Spartans before. Losses in 1998 and 2015 still rank among Ohio State's most crushing defeats ever. The Buckeyes will be heavily favored at home, but Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker will probably pull out all of the stops for this one.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
THE GAME. The build-up and anticipation for this one will be immense, as these two storied programs did not get a chance to play for the first time since 1918 because of the pandemic. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is under pressure to get a win over the hated Buckeyes, as the Wolverines have not defeated Ohio State since 2011.