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2023 Expectations for Ohio State Football

2023 Ohio State University

The last season of Ohio State football had its ups and downs and ended on what Georgia fans have called the "Midnight Miracle" when Noah Ruggles missed a game winning field goal as the clock struck midnight to ring in the new year. That last game left a bad taste in many fans mouths and rightfully so as the Buckeyes likely would have beaten TCU in the championship game to win their second title in the last ten years. But after that game the Buckeye fan base also had to say goodbye to a handful of beloved players in QB C.J. Stroud and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as well as a handful of elite level offensive linemen. The end of 2022 left a lot of question marks for the future of the Ohio State program and now with less than 100 days until the start of next season it's time to look at where the Buckeye program is and where they could be on New Years Eve of 2023.

First up is the schedule, maybe the most important factor to look at prior to the start of a new campaign is how difficult of a road the team will have to traverse throughout the year and this season is no different. The Buckeyes have 10 power-5 opponents on their schedule with their first coming in week 1 against Big Ten opponent Indiana. While this isn't exactly a tough game considering how Indiana has been in recent seasons, but it will be a tough road environment for the Buckeyes new QB in their first start as a starter in their careers. Then again in week 4, Ohio State will hit the road for their second power-5 road game of the season as they travel into South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who are ranked No. 13 in the nation according to ESPN's Preseason Rankings released in early May. The first four weeks of the schedule would be a tough task for just about any team in the nation, but the Buckeyes are going to have to manage a new QB and three new linemen in some major road games early in the year. Which means they have to rely on their defense to step-up and in recent years that has not been a reliable option.

Ohio State's conference schedule following the season opener against Indiana will begin in week 5 against Maryland, a team that many media members are yet again pushing as a team on the verge of becoming a contender in the conference. Then Ohio State must play at Purdue in one of the toughest environments in all of the Big Ten and then play host to Penn State in the following week. There are no breaks after PSU because once more the Buckeyes will have to hit the road and go into Wisconsin to take on one of the best running backs in the country in Braelon Allen. Then finally the Buckeyes get a small break on the schedule with a road game in Rutgers and a home game against Michigan State to start the month of November. Either one of those games could become difficult due to weather, Ohio State did struggle at times in late October and November last season due to cold temperatures and gusting winds.

If the entire season leading up this point wasn't enough the Buckeyes were handed a tough final two weeks this season as they will have to play against the top offense in the Big Ten West in a home game against Minnesota and then the reigning back-to-back Big Ten Champs in TTUN on the road to finish the season. The 2023 slate currently ranks as the 9th hardest in the nation based off of team records from 2022 as the teams on their schedule this year combined for a (94-60) record a season ago. For a brief comparison of other teams that were in the playoffs last year, TTUN is ranked No. 51 (83-69), Georgia is ranked No. 63 (80-70), TCU is ranked No. 104 (74-78).

Of course the best case scenario is a national championship, same for all teams, but is that realistic this year for Ohio State? The short answer is probably not. The Buckeyes are going to be with a first year quarterback this season and while first year QB's have had success at Ohio State, only one has ever led the team to a perfect season and national championship. That was Rex Kern who is the only QB in Buckeye history to start and win two titles during their tenure in Columbus, with one being in his first season in 1968 under coach Woody Hayes as a true Freshman and the other one coming in 1970. A national title seems unlikely this year unless Devin Brown or Kyle McCord can produce the same numbers we've seen from the likes of Dwayne Haskins Jr., Justin Fields, and C.J. Stroud and even then the defense will have to step-up and help win football games this season.

With all that being said, the Buckeyes can still very realistically win the Big Ten once again and take a trip to either the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six Bowl Game. There is enough talent and ability in Columbus to go undefeated and win it all, but the team has had trouble putting it all together for an entire season under coach Ryan Day. So if the Big Ten Championship game and a trip to the Playoffs are the ceiling, then where is the floor?

Well one of the worst case scenarios is that the Big Ten is super competitive this year and the first year QB at Ohio State struggles and the Buckeyes can't win the big games. Which likely would lead to losses against Notre Dame, Maryland, Purdue, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and TTUN. A season that would surely end the tenure of almost every member of the Buckeye coaching staff as they would go (5-7). This is likely the floor for this team as we could see a struggling offensive line mixed with rough QB play and another sub-par defensive performance get destroyed by some talented hard-nose Big Ten teams.

So what is the most realistic season for Ohio State? With the ceiling being champs and the floor being the first Buckeye team with a losing record since Luke Fickell's 2011 season where he was forced into being the Buckeyes Interim HC due to "Tattoogate". The last losing season with a permanent head coach was in 1988 under first year coach John Cooper. The most likely season for Ohio State is a 10-2 regular season. There are plenty of teams on the schedule that could take down the Buckeyes this year depending on how the scarlet and gray come to play on any given Saturday this Fall. But it's hard to say that the Buckeyes are going to have massive struggles with a new QB considering that the Buckeyes haven't had a first year starting QB bust since Joe Bauserman in 2011.

At 10-2 the Buckeye could be in the Big Ten Title game depending on how the rest of the conference plays out and where those two losses come from, a loss to Notre Dame in week 4 would not impact their conference record and they could make it in with one-conference loss. A potential Big Ten Title appearance win would either send them to the playoffs or New Year's Six Bowl Game. Without a conference title the Buckeyes could still make a big-time bowl game but could also see themselves playing in one of the bigger non-New Year bowl games.

There are still a lot of question marks about this Ohio State team going into the 2023 campaign and we still have very few answers. With the future of the Buckeyes program on the line thanks to NIL deals pulling bigger name recruits out of Ohio State's reach. Another big time performance this season is going to be necessary to keep future recruits interested. Without a good season, the most prosperous era in Columbus since Woody Hayes may finally meet its end after two decades of dominance which saw Ohio State as the only team in the Northern half of the United States to win a national title since 1997.



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