COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the better part of the last two decades, Ohio State football has prided itself on its out-of-conference scheduling. Dating back to a date with UCLA in 2001, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Buckeyes slate that didn’t include at least an attempt at playing a premier opponent prior to the start of Big Ten play.
Sometimes it’s worked out, with schools such as Texas, USC and Oklahoma providing high-profile matchups early in the season. Other times — looking at you, Cal and Virginia Tech — Ohio State’s scheduling efforts have been less fruitful.
In 2022 and 2023, however, the odds appear to be in the Buckeyes’ favor — at least as far as their strength of schedule is concerned. In both of those seasons, Ohio State will play Texas and Notre Dame — two of college football’s top-six all-time winningest programs.
Why would the Buckeyes choose to face two programs that possess the potential to be premier opponents five years from now? According to Ohio State deputy director of athletics Martin Jarmond, it has more to do with the Fighting Irish than it does the Longhorns.
“We hadn’t gotten Notre Dame. We loved that series,” said Jarmond, who will become the athletic director at Boston College this June. “It’s drivable. It was great when Eddie George and those guys played in ’95 and ’96. I’ve heard about how great that was.”
But as Ohio State negotiated with the Fighting Irish in 2014, Notre Dame’s only open dates for the foreseeable future were in 2022 and 2023. Two years earlier, the Buckeyes had inked a deal with Texas for a home-and-home series in the exact same years.
“We knew we wanted to get Texas. We wanted to get down there to the recruiting and the fans,” said Jarmond. “So Texas was the first one I scheduled [in 2022 and 2023]. And then Notre Dame came along and this is literally all they could do.”
It didn’t hurt that when it came to attempting to schedule the Fighting Irish, Jarmond had the support of his boss. A Notre Dame defensive end from 1973-76, Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith was on board with putting together a series with his alma mater. And although the Buckeyes have twice faced the Fighting Irish during Smith’s tenure in Columbus, the two schools haven’t squared off in the regular season since 1996.
A big reason for that has been the complications that are part of dealing with Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish are not tied to a conference, but they have agreements in place to play five games against ACC schools, as well as rivalry games against USC and Stanford. The Buckeyes have other series scheduled and have Big Ten obligations, so finding a two-year window for a home-and-home with Notre Dame was a challenge.
With the rarity of such series in mind, Jarmond, who’s handled Ohio State’s scheduling since 2009, pulled the trigger.
“You’re in Gene’s office and you’re like, ‘Can we handle that?’ ” Jarmond recalls asking. “You may not get Notre Dame again. That makes it something that’s attractive for our fans. Let’s do it.”
As a result, Ohio State moved a previously scheduled series with Boston College from 2023-2024 to 2026-2027. The Buckeyes also recently announced a number of changes to their future schedules.
Although Ohio State appears set to face another decade’s worth of top-level nonconference opponents, no future Buckeyes schedule stands out like the ones in 2022 and 2023. And for that, Ohio State can thank the Fighting Irish.
“This might be like a unicorn,” said Jarmond. “You don’t know when you’re going to get a call again.”