The Ohio State University football team will get to hit somebody other than themselves Saturday when Navy visits Ohio Stadium.
The schedule is much more appealing for Buckeye fans this season, especially at home.
OSU opens with three of its first four games at the ’Shoe. The lone exception is Toledo at Cleveland Browns Stadium, which is a Rockets home game.
After Navy is the much-anticipated matchup with USC.
Later in the season, the Buckeyes have to go to Penn State (Nov. 7) and Michigan (Nov. 21), which could determine the Big Ten championship. Those venues are not easy, especially with a “young” team.
Michigan State (which is unfortunate) and Northwestern are off the schedule this season.
Let’s go through the schedule and see what we can come up with:
Sept. 5: Navy — No offense to Youngstown State, but this should be the type of opener for the Buckeyes every season — a good, solid program that will help them prepare for the rest of the season. The Midshipman for the last several seasons have been one of the top independent teams in the nation. Last season was no exception as Navy carved out an 8-5 mark under first-year coach Ken Niumatalolo. Navy runs the triple option and this season that will be led by quarterback Ricky Dobbs, the team’s leading rusher. They have 11 returning starters. OSU wins.
Sept. 12: USC — Sure, the Trojans had 12 players drafted, including six in the first three rounds, but don’t weep for the Trojans. This is truly one of a handful of college programs that just reloads every year. They return their top four rushers, an outstanding receiver (Damian Williams), an outstanding offensive line and an outstanding defensive back (Taylor Mays). Despite one loss each of the last two seasons, USC was arguably the best team at the end of the season. Although this game doesn’t need any more hype, this game is absolutely huge for OSU. It appears Trojans coach Pete Carroll is going with true freshman Matt Barkley at quarterback in the opener against San Jose State. This is the biggest non-conference game at home since Texas in 2005. I can’t go with the Buckeyes until they can prove they win on the national stage again. USC wins.
Sept. 19: Toledo — It will take time for Tim Beckmen to get my Rockets turned around. Toledo had a good run in the last 1990s and earlier this decade, but have run into problems lately. OSU wins.
Sept. 26: Illinois — Which Fighting Ilini team will show up this season? The one that went to the Rose Bowl two years ago or the one that underachieved at 5-7 last season. This team still has talent offensively with quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Arrelious Benn, but inconsistency has been a problem for Ron Zook’s program. Illinois has won in 2001 and 2007 at Ohio Stadium. OSU wins.
Oct. 3: at Indiana — The Hoosiers are still going through changes and won’t be much of a factor in the Big Ten this season. OSU wins.
Oct. 10: Wisconsin — The Badgers took a step backward last season with seven wins, down from nine in 2008 and 12 in 2007. Running back John Clay was certainly impressive against the Buckeyes in October. The key comes down to the Badgers’ quarterback situation. OSU wins.
Oct. 17: at Purdue — Another team in transition with a first-year coach. Danny Hope has his work cut out for him in 2009. OSU wins.
Oct. 24: Minnesota — The Golden Gophers, who move into a new stadium this season, started strong last season, but faltered down the stretch. The quarterback-wide receiver combination of Adam Weber and Eric Decker could be fun to watch. OSU wins.
Oct. 31: New Mexico State — A new on the schedule this season, the Aggies compete in the Western Athletic Conference. It could be a tough first season for coach DeWayne Walker. OSU wins.
Nov. 7: at Penn State — This game could determine the Big Ten champion and bowl possibilities. I still like the Nittany Lions, because of quarterback Daryll Clark, running back Evan Royster and linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee, the latter returning from an injury. Despite a 37-17 win over Penn State in 2007, OSU usually struggles in Happy Valley. And don’t think for a minute the Penn State faithful have forgotten Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor’s decision to go to Columbus. Penn State wins.
Nov. 14: Iowa — The Hawkeyes are back on the schedule after a two-year hiatus. Iowa finished strong with a win over Penn State to knock the Nittany Lions from any chance of playing in the BCS National Championship Game and beating South Carolina 31-10 in the Outback Bowl — the Big Ten’s lone bowl win. Can they sustain it in 2009? OSU wins.
Nov. 21: at Michigan — I can’t imagine another 42-7 OSU win. The Wolverines should be better in 2009. They need to be better in 2009. Coach Rich Rodriguez will turn that program around, but I look for seven, eight wins this season. It could be a similar situation for Pryor, who also spurned Michigan for OSU. OSU wins.
What does all of this mean? If Penn State runs the Big Ten table and beats the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions are headed back to the Rose Bowl.
I still think OSU can get to a BCS Bowl Game. Do I say the Fiesta Bowl again? Unlikely. I’m going with the Sugar Bowl this season.