COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio State faces off against Oklahoma on Saturday, the matchup will pair the top two teams in the all-time AP Top 25 released prior to the season.
The Buckeyes’ trip to Oklahoma will mark just the third time the teams have met — a return game in Columbus next season will make it four — and given the Sooners’ stature and Ohio State’s scheduling goals, it’s at least a little surprising that they haven’t met up more often.
The task can be complicated by how far in advance games are booked — OSU’s home and home with Oklahoma was agreed upon in January 2008 — but Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith wants to schedule at least one premier nonconference foe per year.
“They’re the type of program that fits our scheduling philosophy,” said deputy director of athletics Martin Jarmond, who puts together Ohio State’s football schedule. “Gene’s very strong on wanting to play a perennial top-10 program every year, and that’s one of the three nonconference games we try to schedule. That’s why you see Oklahoma, TCU, Oregon, Texas and Notre Dame (in future matchups), just to name a few, that I’ve helped work to secure. First and foremost, we want to play and compete against historically top-10 programs.”
All of the aforementioned games are also home-and-home series, which is consistent with what Ohio State wants to do. That makes Ohio State somewhat of a rarity, as more and more programs are opting to play tough opponents in one-off neutral-site games.
Just look at the first weekend of the season, for example. Alabama played USC in Arlington, Texas. Georgia Tech and Boston College crossed the pond to play in Dublin, Ireland. Wisconsin took on LSU in Green Bay, Wis. Georgia faced North Carolina in Atlanta and Ole Miss and Florida State met up in Orlando, Fla.
Don’t expect to see Ohio State in any of those opening weekend games, however.
“When we have a stadium as large as we have, financially speaking, the guarantee we would need to play a neutral-site game is not something a lot of places can offer,” Jarmond said. “It doesn’t make financial sense for us to hold a neutral-site game in a stadium that holds 75,000 when we’ve got 105,000 here. Those are hard. That’s not to say we wouldn’t consider it because we have considered neutral-site games. At the end of the day, it would have to be a heck of an offer for us to take a game away from Columbus.
“Gene Smith believes that when we can have 105,000 people in our stadium and the economic impact not only for the game itself but for the surrounding central Ohio community, we don’t like taking games away from Columbus.”
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that he tries to leave the scheduling details to Smith and Jarmond, but the administrators know what Meyer wants and needs to be successful and believe they’re all in agreement when it comes to the ultimate goal.
There are countless nuances and details that go into finding the right opponents, but more than anything else, Smith and Jarmond want to put together a schedule that will give Ohio State and Meyer a chance to win a national championship.
“Urban wants to put his program in a position to compete for championships every year,” Jarmond said. “I understand that, and I feel the same way and Gene feels the same way, so we’re on the same page when it comes to that. I think you want to be mindful of whether there are any particulars of what a coach wants, and everybody is different. For example, recruiting. Obviously we’re playing Texas and playing TCU (in future seasons), and that’s important to us. We went out and played Cal a couple years ago because California is important to us. That’s a factor, as well, and that’s something that’s important to Urban. We take all of that into consideration.
“At the end of the day, we’re all on the same page and want to schedule aggressively to give ourselves a chance to be there at the end.”
With the matchup against No. 14 Oklahoma, it’s hard to imagine a better fit. The Sooners are a nationally relevant program located a couple hours from a talent-rich state that Ohio State recruits. And given Ohio State’s youth, a loss could be forgiven by the time December rolls around while a win would further cement the Buckeyes’ perception as one of the top teams in the country.
Given that the home-and-home was scheduled when current players were in middle school, there’s always a little bit of luck when it comes to projecting where both programs would be at this point.
“You hope it always works out that way, and thankfully this one has,” Jarmond said.