Ohio State coaches, players and fans all know who the Buckeyes open up the 2022 football season with. Notre Dame is sitting a little more than seven months away with former Ohio State player Marcus Freeman as a first-year head coach with former Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington a new member of that coaching staff. This certainly will rank in Ohio State’s history of big games once it is played.
We will have plenty of time in the coming months to talk about Notre Dame at length, but this got us to thinking about how often the Buckeyes open the season against a Power Five opponent, even if Notre Dame is not in a conference.
It has become a more frequent scheduling occurrence now than it was a decade ago when the Buckeyes were generally looking at in-state opponents or even to the FCS ranks (the last FCS season opener was against Youngstown State in 2008).
Future dates are always tentative, but Ohio State will have a pair of big Power Five games in the future with Texas kicking off the 2025 season and Georgia leading off the 2031 season, provided that those games stay on the schedule with the ever-evolving fluidity of college scheduling.
But with teams having different approaches as to what their schedules need to look like to satisfy the panel in Grapevine (Texas) charged with selecting teams to the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes will have opened against P5 teams in four of the last five years, including the 2022 opener.
We went back to 1982, a span of 40-years, to look at Ohio State’s season openers, from the conference games to the non-conference games. There were a lot of wins and very few losses. Don’t forget that the Power Five designation has really only been in play since 2006, so for much of this search, we get to create our own definitions.
That means if you were in the Big East, Big Eight or Southwest Conference, you are in. If you were an independent? That is a little bit more of a gray area because we are counting Notre Dame on the right side of the cut now, but not all independents are built the same.
Over the course of the 40 years, we are going to give the nod to 17 games counting against either Power Five teams or a reasonable enough facsimile to being Power Five. Over that run of 17 games, the Buckeyes have had a 15-2 record in those openers with losses at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes in 1999 (23-12) and the Alabama Crimson Tide in 1986 (16-10).
The Buckeyes have outscored opponents in those 15 wins by almost 22 points with a 576-248 edge in final scores and only three of those games have been within one score (eight points).
Of the 17 games, three have been conference games and we will dive into that a little more in a minute. Of the 14 games against non-conference teams, the Buckeyes have doubled up against Oregon State and Texas Tech, faring much better in the second meeting, despite winning all four games.
Only two of these games have been true road games (at Virginia Tech – 2015, at West Virginia – 1998) and the Buckeyes have handled both of those games. Neutral site games on the other hand have been a thorn in the side of Ohio State in season openers against P5 opponents with the Buckeyes going 1-2 in such games, don’t look for Ohio State campaigning to open the season in New Jersey any time soon.
Used to be a regular thing
Ohio State went from after the 2003 season until the 2015 season without having a Power Five season opener and from 2015 forward, the Buckeyes have played five P5 teams.
Up until 2003, it was a much more regular occurrence with the years that Ohio State did not play a team from one of the upper conferences being the exception, rather than the rule.
It should not be lost that in 2006 the college football establishment moved from playing 11 games to 12 games, allowing your larger and more profitable programs to add another home game and generally against a lesser opponent. As teams were looking to find out what they had and what they needed to work on, there was less of a push to challenge yourself with an equal or greater foe in week one and college football in general saw a decrease of pivotal week one games.
Now, don’t get confused by all Power Five teams being good, Ohio State has only opened the season over the 40 years against five ranked teams in the Associated Press poll and hold a 3-2 record with ranked wins over Washington (2013), West Virginia (1998) and Boston College (1995).
What about the Big Ten?
The Buckeyes have three opening week games against conference mates, Minnesota (2021), Nebraska (2020) and Indiana (2017) and strangely enough, two of those three games have been on the road. In this new era of Ohio State offense, the Buckeyes have scored at least 45 points in all three games.
Six Big Ten teams will see a league foe to open the 2022 season with Northwestern and Nebraska slated to play Week Zero in Ireland while Indiana/Illinois and Penn State/Purdue will kick off Week One action.
Games that missed the cut
Ohio State had four games over the 40-year run that were against teams who are currently in the Power Five but were not in a league at the time that the two teams played, and as we said earlier, not all independents are built the same.
In 1992 the Buckeyes hosted Louisville, who was independent at the time and the Buckeyes managed to eke out a one-point win, 20-19. Ohio State would reel off wins against Syracuse in 1988 (26-9) and West Virginia (24-3) in 1987. The Buckeyes would have to gut out a win against Pittsburgh in 1985, 10-7. Jim Karsatos would connect with Cris Carter in the final five minutes of the game to put the Buckeyes in the lead and win the game.
But even those four games against “independents” are a far cry from some of the scheduling that we grew accustomed to seeing in the decade between 2005-2015.
What is the future?
Nobody is quite sure on how to answer this one. As the College Football Playoff committee tries to find a consensus on expansion beyond four teams in the playoff, does that loosen up teams to play a big game to open the season or does it have teams get even more worried about an early season loss in a showcase game?
As long as there is zero uniformity when it comes to scheduling models between the Power Five leagues, with some leagues playing eight conference games and others playing nine, some leagues allowing games against FCS opponents and others frowning upon it, we are seeing a very uneven deck being used at the poker table.
To the credit of several teams on the national stage, the one-game neutral site series remains very popular with games like Alabama and Miami (Fla.) as well as Georgia vs. Clemson in week one of the 2021 season. Previous years have followed a similar pattern.
Teams are reluctant to give up their home gate, especially in this world where programs lost most of their 2020 athletics revenues due to living in a world with COVID. It would be hard to imagine Ohio State agreeing to give up a home date to play many neutral site week one games without some major promises in terms of revenues and even that would not help out a university community of shops and eateries that rely upon those few Saturdays a year to make the yearly budget.
The Buckeyes are unlikely to back away from scheduling at least one major program per year on the football schedule but don’t look for either side (Ohio State or the opponent) to make a major push to make a week one date a regular occurrence.
Be sure to soak it all in on week one of the 2022 season because it is sure to be a rare happening at Ohio Stadium.
|2021||at Minnesota||W 45-31||B1G Game|
|2020||vs. Nebraska||W 52-17||B1G Game|
|2018||vs. Oregon State||W 77-31|
|2017||at Indiana||W 49-21||B1G Game|
|2015||at Virginia Tech||W 42-24|
|2003||vs. No. 17 Washington||W 28-9|
|2002||vs. Texas Tech||W 45-21|
|1999||vs. No. 12 Miami (Fla.)||L 23-12||Neutral Site|
|1998||at No. 11 West Virginia||W 34-17|
|1995||vs. No. 22 Boston College||W 38-6||Neutral Site|
|1992||vs. Louisville||W 20-19||was Indep. at the time|
|1991||vs. Arizona||W 38-14|
|1990||vs. Texas Tech||W 17-10|
|1989||vs. Oklahoma State||W 37-13|
|1988||vs. Syracuse||W 26-9||was Indep. at the time|
|1987||vs. West Virginia||W 24-3||was Indep. at the time|
|1986||vs. No. 6 Alabama||L 16-10||Neutral Site|
|1985||vs. Pittsburgh||W 10-7||was Indep. at the time|
|1984||vs. Oregon State||W 22-14|
|1983||vs. Oregon||W 31-6|
|1982||vs. Baylor||W 21-14|