COLUMBUS, Ohio — With spring practice in the books, three months remain until the start of Ohio State football’s fall camp.
The Buckeyes’ summer break this offseason, however, will be a bit shorter than usual. That’s because with its season opener scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 31, Ohio State will be permitted to start practicing three days earlier than usual.
That’s one of the many quirks that help make up one of the most interesting slates in recent memory. What else do you need to know about the Ohio State football 2017 schedule? Let’s take a look.
If it’s your preference that the Buckeyes ease their way into each season, this might not be the season for you. Ohio State will not only open its season on the road in prime time, it will do so against a Big Ten opponent — Indiana — for the first time since 1976.
It will only get tougher from there, as the following week the Buckeyes will host Oklahoma. The Sooners return Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Baker Mayfield, as well as 15 other starters from the 2016 team.
Fortunately for Ohio State, its Thursday opener will give it two extra days to prepare for its showdown with the Sooners. Nevertheless, you’d be hard-pressed to find a schedule in which the Buckeyes opened their season against two opponents as strong as Indiana and Oklahoma.
While the Hoosiers and Sooners may garner the headlines, Army — another quality opponent — awaits in Week 3. The Buckeyes battle with the Black Knights will mark their first contest against a service academy since 2014, when Ohio State beat Navy 34-17 in Baltimore in its season opener.
It’s no coincidence that the upcoming contest against Army will be played the third week of the season instead of the first. After beating the Midshipmen three years ago, Ohio State fell to Virginia Tech a week later, with some — including Urban Meyer — believing that it wasn’t a good thing for the Buckeyes to spend so much time in the preseason preparing for a triple-option opponent.
Like Navy, the Black Knights rely on a triple-option offense, which helped propel them to an 8-5 record and a victory in the Heart of Texas Bowl in 2016. As a result, don’t expect the Buckeyes to open their season with a service academy as long as Meyer is in charge.
For years, it’s seemed as though Ohio State has been on the wrong side of the Big Ten’s bye weeks. In 2016, Wisconsin and Penn State each received weeks off before hosting Ohio State.
This year, however, the Buckeyes appear to be the team that will benefit.
While Ohio State will have to wait until the eighth week of the season to receive its bye, it comes at a crucial point in the schedule. After traveling to Lincoln to take on Nebraska on Oct. 14, Ohio State will take a week off before hosting the Nittany Lions on Oct. 28.
The only team to beat the Buckeyes in the regular season a year ago, Penn State returns starting quarterback Trace McSorley as well as star running back Saquon Barkley. If ever there were a time Ohio State could use extra preparation, the week before its showdown with the Nittany Lions would be it.
As a result of conference expansion, the Buckeyes have made fewer road trips to some Big Ten venues. In 2017, Ohio State will play in a pair of historic stadiums it hasn’t seen in some time.
The first will come in the seventh week of the season, when the Buckeyes travel to Nebraska. Ohio State hasn’t played in Memorial Stadium since 2011 — the Cornhuskers’ first season as a member of the Big Ten.
Three weeks later, the Buckeyes again will head west, this time to Iowa City, where Ohio State will take on Iowa at Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2010.
In addition to the matchup against Penn State, those two conference crossover games will go a long way toward determining where the Buckeyes stand entering the final stretch of the season. So, too, could their third scheduled game against a Big Ten West opponent.
Lovie Smith’s Ohio State homecoming
While it may not be as highly touted as Ohio State’s other two conference crossover opponents, Illinois will return to the Buckeyes schedule in 2017. That’s right, the battle for the Illibuck is back.
The matchup this season will mark Ohio State’s first game against the Fighting Illini since Lovie Smith took over as coach in Champaign. Smith has ties to the Buckeyes program, having served as an assistant under John Cooper in 1995.
During his short time in Columbus, the former Chicago Bears coach served as one of Ohio State’s top recruiters, helping the Buckeyes land wide receiver David Boston and defensive back Gary Berry. In what will be Ohio State’s final matchup before facing Michigan, Smith potentially could play the role of spoiler against his former employer.