We're barely two weeks from the start of the 2014 season. As the countdown continues, we're putting each Big Ten team's schedule under the microscope.
Up next: the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)
Aug. 30: Navy (9-4)
Sept. 6: Virginia Tech (8-5)
Sept. 13: Kent State (4-8)
Sept. 27: Cincinnati (9-4)
East Division games
Oct. 4: at Maryland
Oct. 18: Rutgers
Oct. 25: at Penn State
Nov. 8: at Michigan State
Nov. 22: Indiana
Nov. 29: Michigan
Nov. 1: Illinois
Nov. 15: at Minnesota
Gut-check game: Michigan State handed Urban Meyer his first loss as Buckeyes coach and spoiled Ohio State's quest for a Big Ten championship and a shot at the national title last season. The Buckeyes-Spartans showdown under the lights Nov. 8 is the Big Ten's premier game entering the 2014 season. Ohio State was fortunate to escape East Lansing with a one-point win in 2012. These are two physical, talented teams with strong quarterbacks and excellent defensive linemen. If Ohio State wants to reclaim its place atop the Big Ten, it must get through the Spartans.
Trap game: Win or lose, the Michigan State game will take a lot out of the Buckeyes both mentally and physically. Ohio State then has to travel to Minnesota the following week. It will probably be about 16 degrees at TCF Bank Stadium before the wind chill, and Minnesota uses a power-oriented offense that, if effective, can limit possessions and shorten the game. The Gophers are only getting better under Jerry Kill and will be searching for a true signature win. Ohio State can't look past this one.
Snoozer: Ohio State's overall nonconference slate is much better than last year's, but the Kent State contest doesn't do too much for me. The return of Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes, a former Ohio State assistant, is a nice storyline, and Kent State had some decent performances in 2013, but the Buckeyes should have little trouble in this one.
Nonconference challenge: The schedule lacks a true marquee name, but Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati all pose different challenges. I'll go with Virginia Tech, as the Hokies are almost always strong on defense and special teams, which could allow them to hang around with Ohio State. There are questions on offense, but running back Trey Edmunds should bolster a rush attack that really struggled in 2013. It's a big year for coach Frank Beamer, and Virginia Tech will be anxious to show it can still compete with the nation's elite.
Analysis: This is an upgrade from 2013, even though Ohio State could be favored in every game and faces only one preseason playoff contender in Michigan State. The crossover games in the Big Ten largely stink this season, and Ohio State misses the top West Division title contenders. The Buckeyes face what should be an improved Michigan team at home, and while a trip to Penn State could be tricky, Ohio State is deeper than the Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball. The big question is whether Ohio State must run the table to qualify for a playoff spot, or if it could afford a loss along the way. Despite a 24-0 mark in regular-season Big Ten play under Meyer, Ohio State has had several close calls. Michigan State should be the Buckeyes' toughest test, but there aren't as many easy wins as there were a year ago.