In his first year as head coach of the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer and Ohio State catch a fortuitous turn in future Big Ten scheduling.
If Urban Meyer wins the national championship Ohio State fans expect, his biggest victory might have come three months before he coaches his first game.
Meyer, who will debut on the sideline Sept. 1, drew a huge break this week when the Big Ten unveiled its future conference schedules for 2013-2016.
Meyer need not worry about playing Nebraska or Michigan State in 2013 or 2014, and he skips Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern in 2015 and 2016.
OSU can’t chase the national championship this year because of its one-year bowl ban for NCAA violations that occurred under the Jim Tressel regime.
But by 2013, when those sanctions evaporate, so will one of Ohio State’s major blockades to winning both its division title and the Big Ten championship game. That’s because, by skipping Nebraska throughout the entire careers of the players Meyer is currently recruiting to be future Buckeyes, OSU’s chance of winning it all increase exponentially.
It’s not exactly a disadvantage, either, that Ohio State will duck Michigan State in 2013 and 2014, now that the Spartans appear to have shaken off the 25-year malaise that followed its last Rose Bowl appearance dating to the 1987 season.
Until the Big Ten’s schedule reveal, it appeared Meyer’s best chance for a national championship might come in 2013 – his second season and the next time the Buckeyes are eligible for the prize. That’s because, in 2014 and beyond, the format for crowning a national champion will change dramatically with the advent of a four-team playoff.
When OSU last won the national title in 2002, it didn’t play Iowa – which also went unbeaten in the league that year. If the Big Ten had a championship then, like it has now, Tressel’s charges would have been forced to play Iowa on that stage simply to play for the BCS title.
The Buckeyes of a decade ago instead advanced directly to the national title game, where they upset heavily-favored Miami in double-overtime.
Under the format soon-to-be-adopted for 2014 and beyond, OSU would have had to follow its upset of Miami with another game against the winner of Iowa-USC. It’s doubtful either would have slept on the Buckeyes after they dispatched the Hurricanes.
Point being, winning a national title under Meyer – with a Big Ten title game and a four-team playoff starting in 2014 – is a much more difficult task than it was during the Tressel era.
But Meyer’s path surely grew friendlier without the challenge of Michigan State and Nebraska in 2013 and 2014, and without Nebraska and Iowa in 2015 and 2016.
It could be argued Ohio State received the biggest break of all conference teams in the future schedule lottery. Michigan, which figures to challenge OSU for Big Ten dominance, skips Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue in 2013 and 2014 and Indiana, Purdue and Penn State in 2015 and 2016.
There is no objective Ohio State fan who could reasonably argue that the Wolverines received the tougher end of that bargain.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of the Troy Daily News and author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: the Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story. Bruce hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR.
Email Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org
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