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COLUMBUS — It is the question that has college football talking and Ohio State fans California dreaming: Can the Buckeyes run the table?
Or, more accurately, who is going to beat them?
On paper, the Big Ten’s best team faces the league’s worst schedule. Ohio State is an early double-digit favorite in all but two games this season, and for good reason. The Buckeyes’ opponents won a combined 47 percent (70-79) of their games last year while guru Phil Steele rates their path as the 67th-toughest in the country.
The beauty of football is that games are not played on newsprint. They are played in 100,000-seat Midwestern monoliths and on your television.
READ MORE: Ohio State Football Preview
Here’s a closer look at OSU’s road to a second straight perfect regular season, along with its challengers’ records last year and how many points the Buckeyes are giving:
Saturday vs. Buffalo (4-8, -36): In a visit to the University of Buffalo last week, President Obama told students, "I know that everybody here must be fearless, because the football team kicks off against No. 2 Ohio State. ... It could be an upset."
If a president knows anything better than pandering, though, it’s the power of Ohio. Coach Urban Meyer last faced Buffalo in Bowling Green State University’s 2001 home opener — a 35-0 Falcons win — and the result could be even more lopsided this time. Even down three frontline starters, the Buckeyes should roll to their 35th straight home-opening victory against a Bulls team that returns 16 starters but has averaged three wins the past three years.
Sept. 7 vs. San Diego State (9-4, -21.5): This looked to be a classic Big Ten-Big East showdown until SDSU came to its senses in January.
The Aztecs are back in the Mountain West Conference, where the defending co-league champions have quietly become one of the nation’s top non-BCS teams. Still, it "could be an upset" the same way the visitors’ flight out of San Diego International Airport could be delayed by snow. A rebuilt OSU defense will catch a break as the run-first Aztecs break in six new offensive starters.
Sept. 14 at California (3-9, -21): The jet-lagged Buckeyes can’t sleep on the Bears. Traveling across three time zones is never easy and OSU has lost three of its last six nonconference road games against BCS opponents (UCLA in 2001, USC in ’08, Miami in ’11).
New coach Sonny Dykes will need time to grease his Air Raid offense, which obliterated opponents for a national-best 51.5 points per game last year at Louisiana Tech. Cal returns only nine starters and starts true freshman Jared Goff at QB.
Sept. 21 vs. Florida A&M (4-7, -): Unlike their famed marching band, word is the Rattlers football team plans to make the trip — if only for the $900,000 payday that will cover a big chunk of the FCS program’s $2.84 million annual budget. (OSU spent $34 million on football last year, according to federal records.)
Sept. 28 vs. Wisconsin (8-6, -11): Former Meyer understudy Gary Andersen inherits a ready-made winner from ex-Buckeyes archnemesis Bret Bielema.
While the Badgers lose All-American running back Montee Ball and can’t quite decide on a quarterback, the three-time defending Big Ten champions return 14 starters and should pose the Buckeyes’ stiffest challenge in the Leaders Division. Just expect OSU to be ready. The Buckeyes’ first of two home night games should challenge the Ohio Stadium attendance record of 106,102 set against Nebraska last year.
Oct. 5 at Northwestern (10-3, -8): Probably best not to mention this to your swaggering buddy in SEC land, but, yes, a primetime trip to No. 22 Northwestern looks to be the Buckeyes’ biggest pre-Michigan challenge.
Ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2001, NU returns the top skill players from its first bowl-winning team since 1949 — including dynamic quarterback tandem Kain Colter (runner) and Trevor Siemian (passer) and All-Big Ten back Venric Mark (1,366 rushing yards last season). By the time OSU arrives, expect the Wildcats to be 4-0 and 47,000-seat Ryan Field — with the help of several thousand clad in scarlet — to be rocking.
Oct. 19 vs. Iowa (4-8, -23): Iowa is one of four teams to have a bye before facing OSU, along with Northwestern, Purdue, and Penn State. What follows is a comprehensive list of other things the Hawkeyes have going for them: ( ... ).
Oct. 26 vs. Penn State (8-4, -16): The home team has won just one of the schools’ last six meetings, but it won’t be an even fight the next few years as severe scholarship reductions chip away at Penn State’s depth.
Nov. 2 at Purdue (6-7, -17): Will past be prologue in the Buckeyes’ stadium of horrors? New Purdue coach Darell Hazell has seen the recipe in action as a former OSU assistant. Last year’s overtime scare coupled with back-to-back losses at Ross-Ade Stadium will have OSU’s attention.
Nov. 16 at Illinois (2-10, -23): Can Tim Beckman make it to November?
The ex-Toledo coach’s first season at Illinois featured one public relations and on-field debacle after another. Now, an Illini team that had a Big Ten-high four players picked in the NFL Draft is rebuilding from a rebuilding year. The Buckeyes should barrel to their ninth straight win in Champaign.
Nov. 23 vs. Indiana (4-8, -25): The Hoosiers dropped six games last year in which they scored at least 27 points — including a 52-49 loss to OSU. If they can just play a lick of defense, Indiana and a league-best passing offense that returns 10 starters will be able to keep pace with most.
Nov. 30 at Michigan (8-5, -6): If the Buckeyes are still unbeaten, Michigan would love nothing more than to spoil their dream season. Just ask the Wolverines’ 1969, 1973, 1993, 1995, and 1996 teams how sweet these wins taste.