COLUMBUS — Season tickets were in the mail for many Ohio State fans last week for the Buckeyes’ seven home games at Ohio Stadium.
Interest in Ohio State football is as high, maybe higher, than it has ever been. After winning last season’s national championship game by beating Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff, Ohio State is everyone’s No. 1 team in the preseason rankings.
But how does its home schedule rank? Here’s my ranking from best to worst of the games on Ohio State’s schedule in Columbus this fall:
1. Michigan State, Nov. 21
While both teams will insist Michigan is a bigger rival for them, this might be the most important regular-season game in the Big Ten this year.
The winner could end up being one of the teams in the four-team College Football Playoff. And the loser could find itself settling for consolation prizes despite having 10 or 11 wins.
Also, the Spartans spoiled Ohio State’s 2013 season and OSU returned the favor in 2014.
2. Penn State, Oct. 17
The Nittany Lions aren’t back to what they were in the glory days with Joe Paterno, but with an easy early schedule, this could be a match-up of unbeaten teams under the lights.
Penn State’s first six games are against Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana.
Five of those games are at home and the other is on a neutral field.
3. Minnesota, Nov. 7
The Gophers were a challenge for OSU last year when the Buckeyes won 31-24 in Minneapolis. And they’re obviously well coached since Jerry Kill somehow beat Urban Meyer in the Big Ten Coach of the Year voting.
But Minnesota could have a hard time matching last year’s 8-5 record without running back David Cobb (1,626 yards rushing) and tight end Maxx Williams, a second-round NFL draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
4. Maryland, Oct. 10
The Terrapins were a better-than-expected 7-6 in their first season in the Big Ten last year. But with many of the playmakers from that team gone this year, they might struggle to get seven wins.
Ohio State won 52-24 at Maryland in 2014 and it probably won’t be any closer this year.
5. Northern Illinois, Sept. 19
The Huskies are the Mid-American Conference’s version of the St. Louis Cardinals. Every time they’re counted out, they still find a way to play for a championship.
Last year they won the MAC title game 51-17 over Bowling Green, finished 11-3 and had a win over a Big Ten team when they beat Northwestern 23-15. They have 20 of their top 23 offensive players back.
6. Western Michigan, Sept. 26
The Broncos were 8-5 last season and were picked to finish second to Toledo in the West division in the Mid-American Conference this season at the MAC’s media day.
Quarterback Zach Terrell threw for 3,443 yards and 26 touchdowns last season and running back Jarvion Franklin gained 1,551 yards, though he faded late in the season under a heavy workload (307 carries).
7. Hawaii, Sept. 12
Do you remember Ohio State ever playing a game only five days after another game? The home opener against Hawaii comes five days after the season opener at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7.
That tells you all you need to know about how competitive this match-up should be.
Hawaii was 4-9 last season and has won a total of eight games the last three years. It has only one player on its depth chart who was rated higher than a 3-star recruit (linebacker Jeremy Castro) and he transferred from UCLA.
If you’re interested in another ranking of OSU’s home schedule, the lowest priced tickets for each game on StubHub range from $82 for the Western Michigan game to $189 for the Michigan State game. The lowest prices listed for the other games are $87 for Northern Illinois, $89 for Hawaii, $106 for Maryland and Minnesota and $165 for Penn State.
Reach Jim Naveau at (567) 242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.