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Ohio State Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Buckeyes' Schedule

Ohio State Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Buckeyes' Schedule

Ohio State Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Buckeyes' Schedule

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, fresh off an impressive inaugural season as the Buckeyes' head coach, knows that the expectations are high for the defending Big Ten champions to remain among the nation's elite teams. Despite the painful loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff that ended Ohio State's 2019 season, Ryan Day has the Buckeyes well-positioned for another championship run.

Before entertaining any thoughts of getting back to the playoff, Ohio State has to navigate a challenging schedule. While the Buckeyes should be favored in most, if not all, of these contests, they cannot afford to become complacent, lest they wind up on the outside looking in at the playoff, as was the case in 2017 and '18.

9. Sept. 26 vs. Rutgers

Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano will return to Ohio Stadium in his second stint as the head coach of the Scarlet Knights. The Buckeyes have dominated Rutgers since joining the Big Ten in 2014, although last year's 35-point victory was the lowest margin in the teams' six meetings thus far.

8. Oct. 31 vs. Nebraska

It may not be much of a Happy Halloween for the visiting Cornhuskers. Scott Frost and Nebraska had Ohio State on the ropes the last time the Buckeyes hosted the Cornhuskers, with Ohio State escaping with a 36-31 win in 2018, But that was a different Ohio State team, and this is certainly not the same Nebraska team.

7. Nov. 14 at Maryland

Ohio State was barely able to escape with a win the last time the Buckeyes visited College Park, winning a 52-51 overtime thriller in 2018. The Terrapins look to continue to improve under Mike Locksley, but Ohio State figures to have too much talent and firepower.

6. Nov. 7 vs. Indiana

Tom Allen usually has the Hoosiers ready to scrap with the Buckeyes. The timing of this game leads me to believe that Ohio State will want to use it as a springboard for the crucial conference stretch run for the remainder of November.

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5. Oct. 17 at Michigan State

New Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker will welcome the Buckeyes to East Lansing for the first time. Tucker, a former Ohio State secondary coach (2001-04), will have his hands full trying to mold the Spartans into a competitive force in the Big Ten East in 2020. Ohio State's close calls with Michigan State have been legendary over the last decade, and Tucker will likely have some tricks up his sleeve to try and make this game as close as possible.

4. Nov. 21 at Illinois

This is perhaps a bit of a surprise considering Ohio State has not played at Illinois since 2015 (28-3 Buckeyes win). But Illinois was able to sneak up on teams in 2019 (see Wisconsin), and the weather in Champaign can be predictively unpredictable in late November. This one may be closer than Ohio State fans may want to contemplate.

3. Oct. 10 vs. Iowa

Ohio State was on the wrong end of a 55-24 score the last time these teams played each other in 2017. Very few players are still on either team's roster from that game, but Buckeyes fans have been eagerly waiting for this opportunity. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz usually has his team well-prepared regardless of the opponent or setting.

2. Nov. 28 vs. Michigan

That Team Up North. THE GAME. The venom Ohio State fans have for this rivalry never runs out. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is under fire for going 0-for against the Buckeyes thus far, and once again, this year's matchup could determine the winner of the Big Ten East and have a say in how the College Football Playoff shapes up.

1. Oct. 24 at Penn State

An argument could be made that this is Ohio State's toughest game. The Nittany Lions have had the Buckeyes on the ropes the last few seasons, but have never been able to close the deal. Will this be a "White Out" game in Beaver Stadium? If so, that will only add to the degree of difficulty for Ohio State.

Note: Schedule subject to change. Prior to the Big Ten's decision to go with a conference-only schedule, Ohio State's opener with Bowling Green (Sept. 5) would have ranked last (12th) on this list. The Buckeyes' road game against Oregon (Sept. 12) would have ranked first and their Sept. 19 home game with Buffalo would have checked in at No. 7.

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for  Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.