Preseason polls will have Ohio State in the top 5, and the Buckeyes could be favored in every game they play during the 2017 season.
Urban Meyer’s record after five seasons in Columbus stands at a phenomenal 61-6. There have been a few stumbles in the regular season ― an early-season loss to Virginia Tech in 2014, a late-season loss to Michigan State in 2015, and the defeat at Penn State in the middle of the 2016 season.
Ohio State was a significant favorite in each of those games. That wasn’t a vintage Hokies outfit. The Spartans didn’t have their starting quarterback. Nobody knew how good the Nittany Lions would become.
Which game on the 2017 schedule could be the one that trips up the Buckeyes? Let’s set aside Oklahoma and Penn State, a pair of teams likely to begin the season in the top 10. Those are two crucial showdowns, both at Ohio Stadium.
Michigan’s ceiling in 2017 is a mystery. The Wolverines should begin the season in the top 15, if not the top 10, and they will get the Buckeyes at the Big House.
Let’s look beyond those three contests. Meyer’s record at Ohio State in regular-season showdowns with highly ranked teams is perfect.
He is also 22-1 in true road games, which is one of the most remarkable accomplishments for a coach in the last five years. Ohio State has a few interesting road games on the 2016 schedule, including the opener at offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson’s former employer, Indiana.
But the opponent that could give Ohio State trouble is a familiar one. Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State teams have dealt Meyer 33 percent of his losses with the Buckeyes. They also beat Ohio State at The Horseshoe late in 2015 when the Buckeyes looked to be marching toward a College Football Playoff berth.
The Spartans and Buckeyes will meet in Columbus on Nov. 11. The Buckeyes could be 9-0 and steaming toward a chance to win the Big Ten East in Ann Arbor on the final weekend of the regular season.
Meyer and his staff no doubt show their players hours of video from the 2013 Big Ten title game and the 2015 game against Michigan State. All but the freshmen in the room will remember how tough it was to pull out a 17-16 victory in East Lansing last season, despite Michigan State being on its way to a 3-9 record.
The Spartans have had a hellacious offseason, and they do not look like a Big Ten contender at this point. Dantonio is a great coach, and his ability to get his team to play above its level against Michigan and Ohio State has been demonstrated many times. He’s going to have a young and inexperienced team, but that might not matter much by November.
Just seeing Dantonio pacing and scowling on the opposite sideline should be enough to put Ohio State on upset alert.