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Ohio State's schedule is damn easy. Here's how they can still earn the No. 1 spot.

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These projections show the marks a true elite should be expected to hit against the Buckeyes' coming opponents, whether those opponents are tough or not. (Most are not.)

Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

You can already see the "WHO HAVE THEY PLAYED?" vultures circling.

In 2009, Boise State thumped Oregon, pummeled Fresno State on the road, and rose to fifth in AP Poll by October. But despite dominating lesser WAC teams (average score between October 24 and December 5: Boise 49, Opp 20), and despite Oregon going on to win 10 games and reach the Rose Bowl, the Broncos finished the regular season sixth in the poll and BCS standings.

BSU beat No. 13 Virginia Tech on the East Coast in 2010, beat a ranked Oregon State and blew the doors off of Toledo and Hawaii, which combined to win 18 games, but ranked only fourth when they fell to Colin Kaepernick's Nevada. In 2011, they ran circles around an eventual 10-win Georgia but fell from fourth in September to fifth in November before an upset loss to TCU.

Each season, I find myself saying that it's not WHO you play, it's HOW you play. Usually, it's in reference to a mid-major (and usually that mid-major is Boise State), but it can be trotted out at other times, too. I used it to defend Ole Miss during last season's 7-0 start*, for instance.

* This still confuses me. The Rebels beat Alabama, whipped Boise State and Memphis (maybe the country's two best mid-majors) by a combined 43, and beat Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 46. But because it was Ole Miss, skeptics were skeptical. (And then Ole Miss pulled an Ole Miss.)

We might even find ourselves using it to defend Ohio State.

The defending national champions, fresh off of a win in one of the nation's most hostile environments, are about to embark on a ridiculously easy stretch. The Buckeyes will host Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan, travel to Indiana, Rutgers and Illinois, and host Maryland, Penn State, and Minnesota. NIU and WMU are perhaps two of the three best teams in the MAC, but only one of these teams ranks in the early F/+ top 45, and that team, Penn State, just got whipped by Temple.

Minnesota has potential, but it is conceivable that when Michigan State visits in Week 12, it will be the first top-30 opponent Ohio State has seen since leaving Blacksburg. And with Virginia Tech's quarterback now out for a few weeks, it's possible the Hokies will fall out of the top 30 as well.

This isn't really Ohio State's fault. When you've got four non-conference games to schedule, signing an exciting power-conference opponent, two quality mid-majors, and a less-than-stellar mid-major (Hawaii, which was actually three years removed from a 10-win season when the game was announced) is perfectly respectable.

And the Buckeyes have no control over the conference slate. They could have drawn Wisconsin or Nebraska from the West in addition to Minnesota; instead, they got Illinois.

Ohio State's expectations

Still, this is easy. It just is. Just look at these win probabilities. (For more on these probabilities, go here.)



Opponent Current F/+ rank
Proj. margin Win probability Proj. W/L

Ohio State at Virginia Tech 25
100.0% W

Ohio State Hawaii 105
47.1 99.7% W

Ohio State Northern Illinois 56
33.2 97.3% W

Ohio State Western Michigan 68
33.7 97.4% W

Ohio State at Indiana 86
31.5 96.6% W

Ohio State Maryland 75
34.3 97.6% W

Ohio State Penn State 37
24.2 91.9% W

Ohio State at Rutgers 88
31.2 96.5% W

Ohio State Minnesota 46
28.9 95.2% W

Ohio State at Illinois 77
28.5 95.0% W

Ohio State Michigan State 6
12.8 77.0% W

Ohio State at Michigan 36
17.0 83.8% W

Using current ratings, Ohio State's toughest game between now and Week 12 comes against Penn State, a game Ohio State is projected to win 92 percent of the time with an average margin of 24 points. Minnesota might soon rank ahead of PSU, but what would that mean? Only a 20-point projected margin and a 90 percent chance?

Because so much of Ohio State's roster proved itself last year, we don't have to worry much about the "WHO HAVE THEY PLAYYYYED?" gods gaining any traction against the Buckeyes, like they have with Boise State.

Ohio State vs. Boise State's schedule

But this schedule is cakey enough that even Boise State's current schedule would only be slightly easier. Here's what projections would tell us about Ohio State, if the Buckeyes and Broncos traded schedules going forward.



Opponent Current F/+ Rk
Proj. margin Win probability Proj. W/L

Ohio State at Virginia Tech 25
100.0% W

Ohio State at BYU 34
18.8 86.2% W

Ohio State Idaho State N/A
52.7 99.9% W

Ohio State at Virginia 59
22.7 90.5% W

Ohio State Hawaii 105
47.1 99.7% W

Ohio State at Colorado State 64
27.0 94.0% W

Ohio State at Utah State 45
23.2 91.0% W

Ohio State Wyoming 116
48.3 99.7% W

Ohio State at UNLV 120
43.2 99.4% W

Ohio State New Mexico 106
45.0 99.5% W

Ohio State Air Force 84
38.6 98.7% W

Ohio State at San Jose State 95
35.3 97.9% W

On average, Ohio State is projected to win 11.3 games against its current 12-game schedule, now that the win over Virginia Tech is in the books. With Boise State's remaining slate, that increases to only 11.6.

Part of that is because Ohio State is just so damn good. Other than maybe Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Buckeyes would be favored against any college team in any locale. But part is because Boise's schedule is only so much harder; Ohio State has five opponents ranked 70th or worse, and BSU has seven.

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Let's look at those Tide.

Alabama's expectations



Opponent Current F/+ rank
Proj. margin Win probability Proj. W/L

Alabama Wisconsin 24
100.0% W

Alabama Middle Tennessee 80
36.0 98.1% W

Alabama Ole Miss 9
9.7 71.2% W

Alabama UL-Monroe 102
41.5 99.2% W

Alabama at Georgia 5
1.4 53.2% W

Alabama Arkansas 23
14.1 79.2% W

Alabama at Texas A&M 22
9.0 69.8% W

Alabama Tennessee 29
17.5 84.3% W

Alabama LSU 7
9.2 70.3% W

Alabama at Mississippi State 26
9.8 71.5% W

Alabama Charleston Southern N/A
50.5 99.8% W

Alabama at Auburn 18
6.1 63.7% W

Alabama used one of its non-conference games on an FCS opponent -- a common practice -- but because the Crimson Tide are in the SEC West, they still face six games in which they have a lower than 75 percent win probability. The trip to Georgia is a tossup.

Despite having a greater than 50 percent chance in every game, Alabama still has a projected win total of just 9.6, thanks to a schedule that has already featured one top-30 opponent and has eight more on the way.

So what would happen if we replaced Ohio State's remaining schedule with Alabama's?

Ohio State vs. Alabama's schedule



Opponent Current F/+ Rk
Proj. margin Win probability Proj. W/L

Ohio State at Virginia Tech 25
100.0% W

Ohio State Middle Tennessee 80
38.2 98.6% W

Ohio State Ole Miss 9
11.9 75.4% W

Ohio State UL-Monroe 102
43.7 99.4% W

Ohio State at Georgia 5
3.6 58.2% W

Ohio State Arkansas 23
16.3 82.7% W

Ohio State at Texas A&M 22
11.2 74.1% W

Ohio State Tennessee 29
19.6 87.2% W

Ohio State LSU 7
11.4 74.5% W

Ohio State at Mississippi State 26
12.0 75.6% W

Ohio State Charleston Southern N/A
52.7 99.9% W

Ohio State at Auburn 18
8.3 68.3% W

The numbers are high on Alabama (the Tide are the Tide, after all) but a little bit higher on Ohio State, which makes sense considering what goes into the preseason projections (recent performance, returning talent, recruiting) and how much weight those projections still carry.

With Ohio State's slight superiority, the above schedule is still pretty brutal. The Buckeyes would be projected to win 9.9 games against this hypothetical 12-game slate. They could live up to every bit of their billing and still finish 10-2 or 9-3.

(Meanwhile, with the Buckeyes' schedule, Alabama would be projected to win 11.1 games.)

If you're a fan of a team in this country's Southeastern quadrant, this information might lead you to declare that if Ohio State loses a game at all, the Buckeyes wouldn't deserve to reach the Playoff. And for all we know, the committee might agree.

But here's when we come back to the who vs. the how. There are a lot of ways to go 11-1. Hell, as Florida State proved last year, there are a lot of ways to go 12-0.

Consider the above projections a benchmark. Want to figure out if Ohio State is living up to its hype even as it devours an exotic set of cupcakes?

Keep up with how the Buckeyes are performing versus projections. They should beat Hawaii by about a 53-6 margin. They should beat NIU and WMU by something like 54-21. Indiana's offense might be solid, but Ohio State should be expected to win in the 56-24 range.

If Hawaii's offense gains traction, or if WMU, NIU, or Indiana is able to slow Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, and company down, consider it a red flag.

If Ohio State plows through the schedule in a way that meets expectations, the Buckeyes will be an elite team, even if college football pulls one of those "Why the hell not?" results and they lose to Michigan or something. And if they allow too many opponents to stay close into the second half, a la FSU 2014, then we know something is amiss.

Boiling everything down to who you've played isn't any fun. We only get a few Saturdays, and we can still learn plenty as Ohio State sets to shoot fish in a barrel.