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Ranking the Toughest Games in Ohio State's Quest to Repeat in 2015

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By now, you're probably getting the picture. The Ohio State Buckeyes — defending national champions — are the prohibitive favorite of nearly every media outlet and college football analyst to repeat as champions. As such, that puts a giant target on their backs for both opposing teams and fanbases to take a shot at.

The popular cry outside of Columbus — much like Tallahassee over the last couple of seasons — has been "Who do they play?" Granted, the Buckeyes don't play the most difficult slate of games on paper in the nation. That said, they still must play (and likely win) every game on their schedule if they want to earn a bid into the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year.

Each week, Ohio State's opponent will vary in terms of "degree of difficulty." Not all of that is contingent on the talent level of the teams they face, as scheduling and logistics are sure to play a part as well.

Here now are Ohio State's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.

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12. Sept. 12 vs. Hawaii

This will be Ohio State's home opener against a team that won four games a season ago playing more than 4,400 miles from home. Jet lag will be the least of Hawaii's worries.

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11. Sept. 26 vs. Western Michigan

I can see the Buckeyes coming out a little sluggish early in this one. Two weeks of playing inferior teams and one week getting ready for Western Michigan won't make it easy to keep focus. It might take a quarter or so, but this one should end up looking about like you'd expect on the scoreboard at the end of the day.

10. Oct. 10 vs. Maryland

This will be Ohio State's conference home opener and the first chance for the Buckeyes to strut their stuff against some athletes that they, quite frankly, won't feel so bad about beating down. The Buckeyes should be fairly pumped for this one and cruise to an easy win.

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9. Sept. 19 vs. Northern Illinois

The Huskies are one of the more underrated programs in the country over the past few seasons. They show up and play everyone tough with a roster full of kids who grew up in Big Ten country who want nothing more than to pile up wins over high-profile Big Ten programs who never gave them a look.

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8. Oct. 3 at Indiana

The Hoosiers are tough to read this season. They lost what might have been the best player in their program's history, but look like a program on the rise with some of what they have returning and the players they've brought in via transfers. Indiana knocked off Missouri a season ago, so anything is possible in this one.

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7. Nov. 14 at Illinois

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The Buckeyes will travel to Champaign coming off what very well could be their toughest game to date against Minnesota. The Illini have just enough talent on both sides of the ball — starting with running back Josh Ferguson — to hang around and be pesky.

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6. Oct. 24 at Rutgers

Minnesota plays a factor in this one as well. After a night game against Penn State, the Buckeyes will need to now focus on this night game at Rutgers without looking ahead to their bye week and subsequent matchup with the Gophers. Rutgers has a number of players scattered around the field on both sides of the ball who will play on Sundays. This might not be a cakewalk.

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5. Oct. 17 vs. Penn State

Penn State is rarely an easy game for the Buckeyes lately. Thanks to James Franklin's recruiting efforts, the talent gap between the two teams might be closing, as Ohio State faces far and away the best quarterback it will have faced to date.

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4. Nov. 28 at Michigan

The only reasons this one gets ranked this high are history and location. To a man, the Wolverines aren't capable of winning many position battles against the Buckeyes. Be that as it may, it's still Harbaugh's first game against Ohio State in the Big House in what will be the last hurdle for Urban Meyer's bunch to get over before a likely trip back to Indy for the Big Ten Championship Game. Nerves and emotion cannot be ignored.

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3. Nov. 7 vs. Minnesota

Win or lose, the Gophers will have already faced what is likely to be a top-five team in TCU. They bring a strong secondary, a seasoned quarterback and arguably the best X's and O's coach in the conference into Columbus in an attempt to shock the world. This one should be fun.

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2. Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech

Ohio State will have revenge on their minds, but the Hokies have all summer to prepare for the biggest game of their season. This will be under the lights at Lane Stadium with "Enter Sandman" playing in the background as Frank Beamer's squad take the field as the last team to best the Buckeyes. The atmosphere should be electric.

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1. Nov. 21 vs. Michigan State

Are the Spartans rebuilding or reloading? Is Connor Cook the real deal? We'll know the answers to those questions by the time these two meet — likely for division supremacy. This one has a "Rocky" feel, with the Spartans playing the role of Balboa and the Buckeyes playing the part of Apollo Creed.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.