2011 schedule analysis: Ohio State

Let's continue the breakdown of each Big Ten team's 2011 schedule with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: Akron (1-11)

Sept. 10: Toledo (8-5)

Sept. 17: at Miami (7-6)

Sept. 24: Colorado (5-7)

Leaders division games

Oct. 15: at Illinois

Oct. 29: Wisconsin

Nov. 5: Indiana

Nov. 12: at Purdue

Nov. 19: Penn State

Crossover games

Oct. 1: Michigan State

Oct. 8: at Nebraska

Nov. 26: at Michigan (protected)

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Gut-check game: At Nebraska. You can make a strong case for both the Michigan State game and the Nebraska game, and it might be both. Ohio State should find a way to get through nonconference play at 4-0. Although Michigan State provides a test, Ohio State will be at home and hasn't lost to the Spartans during coach Jim Tressel's tenure. And even if the Buckeyes fall to Michigan State, they'll still have a shot to win the Big Ten if they win out. The Nebraska game brings all the attention as five players and, in all likelihood, Tressel, return from suspension. If Ohio State can win in Lincoln, it'll gain a ton of confidence for the stretch run.

Trap game: At Illinois. Let's say Ohio State beats both Michigan State and Nebraska and starts 6-0. A bye week and then the Wisconsin showdown looms after a trip to Champaign, but Ohio State cannot look past the Illini. Illinois always seems to give Ohio State its best shot, and the Illini could have a pretty nice record when the Buckeyes come to town.

Snoozer: Akron. Yeah, I know it's the opener and there will be a lot of curiosity about who starts where and how Luke Fickell handles his first game as interim coach. But the Zips simply aren't very good and the Buckeyes should have an easy time no matter who calls signals.

Non-con challenge: At Miami. The teams played a bizarre game last year in Columbus, and Miami would have made it more competitive if not for quarterback Jacory Harris' adventures. Ohio State likely will go very conservative on offense and will hope to win with the run game, stout defense and special teams. Miami should be fired up for its home opener under new coach Al Golden.

Key stretch: Like many Big Ten teams, Ohio State probably will sink or swim depending on its performance in the month of October. Although both Michigan State and Nebraska are crossover games, they pose different challenges for the Buckeyes. Illinois never seems to be an easy game for Ohio State, and the Wisconsin contest could decide the Leaders division.

Analysis: This schedule must be viewed in two parts -- the first five games and then the last seven. If Ohio State gets through the first five unscathed, it has a chance to do some special things and truly defy the odds given all the on-field and off-field distractions. While the Buckeyes could survive some early stumbles -- they don't play a division game until Oct. 15 -- this team isn't used to entering mid October with multiple losses on its ledger. Although Ohio State has a track record of winning and appears to have enough leadership and talent to navigate choppy waters, it could reach November with little to play for aside from another win against archrival Michigan.

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