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Ranking the Toughest Games on Ohio State's College Football Schedule in 2016

J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett

In 2015, Ohio State's schedule was widely criticized for its perceived weakness and quality of opponents. Flash forward to the 2016 season, and those critiques will not be heard. Of Ohio State's 12 opponents, 10 played in a bowl game last season and two teams qualified for the College Football Playoff.

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Throw in the massive roster upheaval, due to the 12 NFL Draft choices from Ohio State's 2015 roster, and combine that with a returning roster that has never played in a college game before, and this should be one of the most challenging schedules in recent memory. If head coach Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes in contention for a Playoff spot at the end of this season, national coach of the year honors will not be out of the question.

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With that in mind here are Ohio State’s 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most difficult.

12. Sept. 10 vs. Tulsa

Tulsa head coach Phillip Montgomery has done a solid job in molding the Golden Hurricane into a potent offensive unit, finishing 21st in the country in scoring (37.2 ppg) a year ago. Unfortunately, the defense gave up more points (39.8 ppg, 120th nationally) to the opposition, which is a big reason why Tulsa finished 6-7. The old coaching axiom is that a team improves most from game one to game two. When does Ohio State face Tulsa? Game two.

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11. Sept. 3 vs. Bowling Green

Any time Ohio State plays a MAC opponent, especially an Ohio-based MAC opponent, it causes some concern from the fan base that the Buckeyes will come out flat and not take said opponent seriously. Bowling Green will enter Ohio Stadium for the first time since 2006, under a first-time head coach in Mike Jinks. The majority of Ohio State's roster will be freshmen or redshirt freshmen, eager to impress and make a positive first impression during the season opener.

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10. Oct. 1 vs. Rutgers

Former Ohio State assistant and current Rutgers head coach Chris Ash will make his first return to Ohio Stadium. The last time the Scarlet Knights visited The Shoe in 2014, Ohio State handled them easily, winning 56-17. Considering Ohio State has a bye week before this game, this one could be an unhappy homecoming for Chris Ash.

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9. Oct. 8 vs. Indiana

Indiana has not defeated Ohio State in Columbus since 1987, when Meyer was a graduate assistant. Indiana actually led the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium in 2014, until the Buckeyes rallied for a 42-27 win. Meyer will not let the Buckeyes take the Hoosiers too lightly after last season's scare in Bloomington, when Ohio State escaped with a 34-27 win.

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8. Nov. 12 at Maryland

Former Meyer and Jim Harbaugh protege D.J. Durkin takes the helm at Maryland, trying to make the Terrapins more formidable within The B1G East. Ohio State will be coming off a night game against Nebraska, and will be gearing up for an important road trip to East Lansing against Michigan State. Will Ohio State be guilty of looking ahead too much in this contest?

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7. Nov. 5 vs. Nebraska

Nebraska makes its first trip to Columbus since 2012, Meyer's inaugural season as the Buckeyes’ head coach. Like the 2012 contest, this game has already been designated as a night game in Ohio Stadium. Nebraska will be coming off an important game against Wisconsin. Look for Meyer to have many top-rated recruits in attendance, and the Ohio Stadium patrons to be raucous and ready for Mike Riley's Cornhuskers.

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6. Oct. 29 vs. Northwestern

The last time Northwestern visited Ohio Stadium? It was in 2007 when most of these players from both teams were still in grade school, and Jim Tressel was patrolling the sidelines as Ohio State's head coach. The reason why Northwestern is being ranked this high on the list of Ohio State's opponents? Timing. The Buckeyes will be coming off two challenging road games, while Northwestern will have just concluded a home game against Indiana.

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5. Oct. 15 at Wisconsin

Ohio State has not traveled to Camp Randall at night since 2012. The Buckeyes prevailed against the Badgers in overtime, winning 21-14. Camp Randall is always a difficult stadium to play in, even more so at night. The Badgers also will have the advantage of a bye week before the Buckeyes come to town, whereas Ohio State will host Indiana prior to making the trip to Madison.

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4. Oct. 22 at Penn State

The last time Ohio State traveled to Beaver Stadium in 2014, the Buckeyes were happy to escape with a 31-24 double overtime victory. Penn State is still recovering from its NCAA sanctions, and head coach James Franklin will be tasked with replacing Christian Hackenberg at the all-important quarterback position. The Nittany Lions have advantage of a bye week preceding this game and has designated this contest for their "White Out" game, while Ohio State will be coming off a challenging road trip to Wisconsin.

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3. Nov. 19 at Michigan State

Meyer has been Ohio State's head coach since 2012, and every season has had a significant battle against Michigan State. Ohio State won contests in East Lansing in 2012 and ‘14, while Michigan State broke the hearts of Buckeye coaches, players and fans in 2013 in the Big Ten Championship Game and last season in Columbus. Deadlocked at two wins and two losses since 2012 against the Spartans, which way will this game turn out for Meyer and the Buckeyes?

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2. Nov. 26 vs. Michigan

This might come as a shocker to not be ranked at the top; it was a tough decision. THE GAME. "That Team Up North." Jim Harbaugh, who will be making his first trip into Ohio Stadium since his senior season in 1986, when he guaranteed a victory over the Buckeyes. Look for this one to settle The B1G East Division champion, and go a long ways towards determining a berth in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines are closing the talent gap between the two programs, and will be eager for their first win in Columbus since the 2000 season.

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1. Sept. 17 at Oklahoma

Just as in life, timing is everything. Oklahoma kicks off its 2016 season with a tough opponent in Houston, which won the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl over Florida State to finish off last season’s 13-1 campaign and is coached by former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Oklahoma also gets Sun Belt member ULM at home before Ohio State comes into Norman. As stated above, Ohio State will be fielding a very young team, on both sides of the ball. Will these young players have gained enough experience to withstand what promises to be a rowdy atmosphere in Memorial Stadium, under the lights, before a national television audience, by the third game of the 2016 season?

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— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.