At first glance, the 2021 Ohio State football schedule does not appear overly difficult or treacherous. After all, the Buckeyes get some of their toughest opponents at home (more on that below), and have played well on the road during Ryan Day's first two seasons as head coach.
As we all know, timing is everything, and for a talented but somewhat inexperienced team, that could make a difference. Ohio State boasts some of the nation's premier players at critical positions, but lacks experience at quarterback. How quickly the new quarterback emerges will make a significant difference in how likely it is that the Buckeyes make a third straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Here's a look at Ohio State's 2021 schedule ranked in order of easiest game to most difficult.
12. Sept. 25 vs. Akron
Akron head coach Tom Arth is struggling to rebuild the Zips in the MAC, and a game like this will only magnify the shortcomings and discrepancies between the two programs. Ohio State will have this one well in hand by the end of the first quarter, and should provide Ryan Day ample opportunities to provide quality game reps for his backups on both sides of the ball.
11. Oct. 2 at Rutgers
Head coach Greg Schiano is slowly but surely rebuilding the Scarlet Knights into a respectable opponent. Rutgers was able to keep it somewhat close against Ohio State last season, 49-27. But with the Buckeyes coming off of a matchup with Akron before heading to Piscataway, this probably isn't the season the Scarlet Knights pull off this big of an upset.
10. Nov. 20 vs. Michigan State
Ohio State had little trouble handling the Spartans in East Lansing last season, winning 52-12 despite employing a makeshift offensive line because of COVID-19 issues. Head coach Mel Tucker is working hard on rebuilding Michigan State, but the talent gap between the two programs is too much. The Buckeyes should have no problems in the final home game of the 2021 season.
9. Oct. 9 vs. Maryland
Ohio State was supposed to play at Maryland in 2020, but the game was called off due to COVID-19. The last time these teams did play, the Buckeyes won 73-14 in Columbus. Ohio State may not dominate the Terrapins to that degree this time around but as long as the team isn't looking too far ahead to the bye week that follows, the Buckeyes should win this one fairly easily. Maryland will be coming off what may prove to be a physical night game at home versus Iowa.
8. Nov. 6 at Nebraska
Scott Frost and Nebraska were able to put a tremendous scare into the Buckeyes back in 2018, with Ohio State winning a close one, 36-31. But in the two meetings since, the Buckeyes have outscored the Cornhuskers 100-24. Frost desperately needs a signature victory, but it would take some effort for his team to knock off Ohio State, even at home, given the current state of the two programs.
7. Nov. 13 vs. Purdue
If this game was in West Lafayette, the concern level would be much higher. The sting from the 49-20 defeat is still fresh on the minds of Ohio State fans, as the loss likely denied the Buckeyes a trip to the College Football Playoff. But since this game is in Columbus and the Boilermakers are trying to regroup defensively, look for the home team to put up plenty of yards and points in this one.
6. Sept. 18 vs. Tulsa
This is perhaps the first surprise on this list. Tulsa is coming off a successful 2020 season that saw the Golden Hurricane go 6-3 with the losses coming against Oklahoma State (16-7), Cincinnati (27-24) in the AAC Championship Game, and to Mississippi State (28-26) in the Armed Forces Bowl. Ohio State will still be the heavy favorite but don't be surprised if Tulsa hangs around for a while. Don't forget, the Buckeyes will be coming off of their showdown with Oregon so the energy level may not be there early on.
5. Nov. 27 at Michigan
That Team Up North. THE GAME. This rivalry was a casualty of COVID-19 last season, getting canceled for the first time since 1918. In previous years, this one would undoubtedly be ranked No. 1. But given Ohio State's dominance in the rivalry since 2012, and what could prove to be a challenging year for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, this game may not have as much luster by the time it comes around.
4. Oct. 23 at Indiana
Indiana head coach Tom Allen has built the Hoosiers into a very competitive team as evidenced by the scare they gave Ohio State last season. Indiana went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe with the home team holding for a hard-fought, 42-35 victory that essentially secured the Big Ten East title. Timing could be critical here as Ohio State will come to Bloomington off of its bye week while Indiana will have just hosted Michigan State.
3. Sept. 2 at Minnesota
Another possible surprise in the rankings, but again it's somewhat due to timing. Opening the season on the road is tough enough (especially at night), but Ohio State will be doing this with an experienced quarterback. Look for Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck to pull out all the stops defensively on this one and don't be surprised if the Buckeyes have a four-quarter battle with the Golden Gophers.
2. Oct. 30 vs. Penn State
Over the last few seasons, the games between these two teams have usually come down to the wire, with the Buckeyes eking out one-point victories in both 2017 and '18. Ohio State gets this one after what should be a challenging road contest with Indiana while Penn State will have just played Illinois at home. The winner of this game should be in the driver's seat in the Big Ten East heading into November.
1. Sept. 11 vs. Oregon
These two teams were scheduled to face off in Eugene last season but it was a casualty of the conference-only approach to schedules because of the pandemic. So now, the Ducks must come to Columbus but the timing could end up favoring the visitors. Ohio State opens the season against Big Ten foe Minnesota while Oregon hosts Fresno State. The Ducks definitely need this one more as a win would certainly beef up their College Football Playoff resume, not to mention give the Pac-12 a much-needed boost of confidence. The Buckeyes will be at home and won't have to worry about adjusting to a different time zone, but whoever is at quarterback will have to contend with a stout Oregon defense headlined by standout defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. This is one of the games this fall that everyone has circled on their calendar.