Ohio State hasn’t lost very often since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, and there will be plenty of winning expected for the Buckeyes in 2017.
Meyer is 57-3 in the regular season in five seasons, but two of those defeats have come at home. Penn State’s trip to Columbus seems like an obvious choice for the most important home game of the season, but the most intriguing tilt comes earlier in the year.
Ohio State went to Norman, Okla., last season and soundly defeated Oklahoma, 45-24, in one of the marquee early games. The Sooners will travel to Ohio Stadium on Sept. 9 in one of the top nonconference games of 2017.
Oklahoma will be the favorite to win the Big 12, and most preseason polls and preview magazines likely will rank the Sooners in the nation’s top 10. That was the case last year when the Buckeyes dominated the Sooners as J.T. Barrett threw 4 touchdown passes and Jerome Baker scored a touchdown on a 68-yard interception return.
What makes this game intriguing is what has changed for the Buckeyes — and what hasn’t for the Sooners.
Ohio State’s offense could look a lot different in 2017 after a disappointing shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
While Barrett looked great against the Sooners, the passing game struggled at times during the season and his top two targets, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown, now wear NFL uniforms. New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has to face his most recent former team, Indiana, in the first game of the season. Then he has to face another old team, Oklahoma, in Week 2.
Wilson matching wits with former boss Bob Stoops will be a compelling storyline, but only if Oklahoma’s defense is improved from 2016. What happens when Oklahoma has the ball will be more interesting.
Baker Mayfield returns at quarterback for the Sooners, and he is among the early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy after being a finalist last year. His top three skill players — fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon — were chosen in the 2017 NFL Draft.
After Oklahoma’s loss to Ohio State, the Sooners made changes along the offensive line. The five players who started the final 10 games of the season return. Having Mayfield and the offensive line intact provides a strong starting point for 2017.
Ohio State again will have a reconfigured secondary. The Buckeyes likely will overwhelm many teams with their assortment of pass rushers. Oklahoma’s talented, experienced offensive line could slow them down enough for Mayfield to really test the new-look defensive backfield.
The Sooners have won 10 consecutive games since losing to the Buckeyes, and they will come to Columbus with one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and a sturdy offensive line. The Sooners also will have plenty of motivation after the embarrassing loss last season.
Meyer and his staff will need to convince the Buckeyes that this Oklahoma team is more dangerous than the one they steamrolled a year ago.
The showdowns with Penn State and Michigan to decide Big Ten East supremacy will be of the utmost importance for the Buckeyes, but the early season showdown with Mayfield and the Sooners will provide a barometer for Ohio State’s postseason aspirations.