COMMENTARY | The Ohio State Buckeyes have finally made a change that was long overdue — upgrading their non-conference schedule. During the Jim Tressel era, OSU’s non-conference slate sank to almost embarrassing levels. Gone were the games against Pac-10 teams or regional rivals such as Notre Dame that were almost a yearly occurrence during John Cooper’s tenure with the Buckeyes. Instead, one-sided matchups against teams from the lower rungs of the FBS became the norm for OSU.
No one really ever called out Tressel for it, though. At the time, the Big Ten was one of the mightiest conferences in college football, and even a one-loss OSU squad made it to the national title game in 2007. Those days are over. The Big Ten is realistically about the fifth-best conference in the FBS right now, lagging behind the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12. The Big Ten placed just three teams in the AP Top 25 at season’s end, and the weak reputation the conference currently has nearly killed the Buckeyes’ national title hopes last fall. Even if OSU had defeated Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, there was still a very real possibility that an undefeated Buckeyes squad would’ve been leapfrogged in the BCS standings by a one-loss Auburn team. OSU’s non-conference slate once again left a lot to be desired in 2013.
When a road game against Cal is the crown jewel of a team’s non-conference schedule, that’s a problem, especially in the eyes of voters who seemed to have no problem disrespecting the Buckeyes numerous times in the polls last fall. Thankfully, the Buckeyes have put together a non-conference schedule for 2014 that is at least respectable on paper, and light years better than those of the Tressel era. OSU opens the year in Baltimore against a Navy team that won nine games in 2013, and nearly upset the Buckeyes the last time the two teams met back in 2009. The Navy game will be followed by a home tilt against Virginia Tech. The Hokies stumbled down the stretch in 2013, but still finished with a record of 8-5. Frank Beamer’s squad has made it to a bowl game 21 seasons in a row, so an OSU win over the Hokies should earn the Buckeyes some respect around the nation. After a game against Kent, the Buckeyes will host Cincinnati on September 27.
This means that 2014 will be only the second time in 11 seasons that OSU has faced more than one school from a BCS conference during the regular season. The Bearcats went 9-4 last season in the American Athletic Conference. OSU’s non-conference schedule in 2014 may not be an impossible gauntlet for the Buckeyes to get through undefeated, but it’s good enough that the Buckeyes should be able to regain some much-needed credibility amongst voters this fall.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo Contributor who has followed Ohio State football for over 25 years.