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Ranking the Toughest Games on Ohio State's College Football Schedule in 2017

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Humiliated 31-0 by Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Eve, the Ohio State Buckeyes enter the 2017 college football season with redemption squarely as the goal. Despite the loss that ended the 2016 campaign, most college football fans would agree that head coach Urban Meyer has assembled a roster full of talented players that can once again be in discussion for the national championship.

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On paper, the 2017 season should not be as challenging as ‘16. Yes, Ohio State lost several talented players to the NFL, as was the case entering last season. The difference, however, lies in how the schedule sets up. This fall, the Buckeyes get a bye in the middle, after their seventh game, compared to 2016 when the breather came after their third game. This should prove advantageous in the middle of a physically demanding season.

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

12. Sept. 28 vs. UNLV

This will mark the first-ever contest between UNLV and Ohio State on the gridiron. UNLV is coming off of a 4-8 2016 campaign and has the advantage of a bye before making the trip to Columbus. However, something leads me to believe the extra rest and scouting time may not be of immense benefit to the Rebels.

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11. Nov. 18 vs. Illinois

Lovie Smith is in his second year as the head coach of the Fighting Illini, after a 3-9 debut. This will mark the first trip back to Columbus since 1995 for Smith, a former Ohio State assistant coach. The final home game for the Buckeyes, look for seniors like quarterback J.T. Barrett and center Billy Price to be determined to leave Ohio Stadium on a winning note.

College Football Rankings: Illinois

10. Sept. 30 at Rutgers

College football rankings: Rutgers

Former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash is slowly rebuilding the Scarlet Knights as patiently and methodically as he can. But this remains a tough assignment, as the fewest points the Buckeyes have scored against Rutgers since joining the Big Ten in 2014 are 49. The final score was 58-0 last season. Even with this game in Piscataway, don’t be surprised if Ohio State scores roughly the same number of points.

9. Oct. 7 vs. Maryland

Former Meyer assistant DJ Durkin was shown no mercy by the Buckeyes last season, as Ohio State rolled 62-3 in College Park. While Durkin is coming off a 6-6 season that earned the Terrapins a berth in The 2016 Quick Lane Bowl, the Buckeyes still have a clear edge in terms of talent and depth, and this is Homecoming in Ohio Stadium.

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8. Sept. 16 vs. Army

This may come as a surprise ranking, as this game will mark the first-ever meeting between the Black Knights and the Buckeyes. While Army is not going to threaten the Buckeyes through the air, this was the nation’s No. 2-ranked rushing attack (339.5 ypg), averaging 5.6 yards per carry. With only a week to prepare for the triple-option attack, and Ohio State coming off what should be a challenging night game against Oklahoma (more on the Sooners later), this should make for an interesting contest.

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7. Aug. 31 at Indiana

Indiana has been a challenging opponent for the Buckeyes ever since Meyer's first season as head coach in 2012. That would usually reflect a higher ranking, but the big change is that former Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson is now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator/tight ends coach. While Indiana will be amped for the season opener, it will not be surprising if Wilson takes the proverbial gloves off against his former employer in this Thursday night special.

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6. Oct. 14 at Nebraska

The last time Ohio State traveled to Lincoln was in 2011, and the Buckeyes lost to the Cornhuskers, 34-27. Nebraska fans would love to see a repeat considering Ohio State annihilated Nebraska 62-3 last season. This likely will end up being a night game. One interesting subplot: the Cornhuskers host Wisconsin the week prior.

Nebraska's college football logo

5. Nov. 4 at Iowa

Strange things seem to happen to B1G teams when they travel to Kinnick Stadium. Ask  Michigan, who lost to Iowa on a last-second field goal last November. Ask 2008 Penn State, who suffered a similar fate. Ohio State has not lost to Iowa since 2004, when the Hawkeyes thumped the Buckeyes 33-7. Where was that game? Kinnick Stadium.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

4. Nov. 11 at Michigan State

Perhaps this may be too high of a ranking for the Spartans, as Michigan State is coming off a 3-9 disappointing season. The rationale behind this placement is how Michigan State has previously played spoiler against the Buckeyes (i.e., 2013 and ’15), while coming very close to beating them in 2012 and ‘16. Ohio State may be the higher ranked (and undefeated?) team when this game kicks off, but that has not seemed to intimidate the Spartans one bit over the past four seasons.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

3. Oct. 28 vs. Penn State

This is a revenge game for the Buckeyes after Penn State shocked Ohio State 24-21 in a raucous night game at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions are the defending Big Ten champs and feature running back Saquon Barkley, one of the most explosive players in college football. This could be an elimination game in the Big Ten East race. Buckle up.

College Football Top 25: Penn State

2. Sept. 9 vs. Oklahoma

Yes, Ohio State was able to handle Oklahoma on the road last season in Norman, 45-24. Yes, Oklahoma will be coming in with new head coach Lincoln Riley for this primetime showdown. So why is this game still so high? Ohio State is replacing three starters in the secondary and this will be just the second game of the season. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield will be anxious to atone for the mistakes he made in last season’s loss.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

1. Nov. 25 at Michigan

THE GAME. "That Team Up North.” The Wolverines may have lost a ton of talent from last season’s team, but head coach Jim Harbaugh has been trying to keep up with Meyer on the recruiting trail, securing classes that consistently rank among the nation’s best. Throw out the records in this one. This game could not only determine the winner of the B1G East, the outcome could potentially factor into the College Football Playoff picture too.

College Football Top 25: Michigan

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