COLUMBUS — Almost every fall for the past two decades, Ohio State has handed David a sling and some stones and challenged an in-state opponent to deliver its best shot.
Bowling Green and Toledo each got multiple cracks, as did Ohio’s four other Mid-American Conference programs and Youngstown State. The Buckeyes have played and won 24 games against teams from their namesake state since 1997.
But this year could signal the end of an era.
If the No. 22-ranked Buckeyes beat Kent State on Saturday and Cincinnati on Sept. 27, their 93-year winning streak over in-state colleges just might last another century.
With the Big Ten moving to a nine-game league schedule in 2016 and Ohio State seeking to supercharge its future nonconference lineups, these neighborhood games could go the way of the Model T — the car of choice when, in 1921, the little guy last reigned and Oberlin stunned the Buckeyes 7-6.
As of today, Ohio State’s future schedules include only two games against Ohio colleges — a visit by Bowling Green in 2016 and Cincinnati in 2019. Next season’s slate is filled, while the Buckeyes have no more than one vacancy in any year through 2019. Already, they have filled their 2023 schedule with Boston College, Notre Dame, and Texas.
“There's going to be few of the [in-state] games, but I don't think they’re ever going to go away,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Blade this week. “We'll periodically play a Bowling Green or a Toledo. Just not as much as we used to, that's for sure.”
Consider it the next cycle in an intra-Ohio lineage that dates to 1890, when the just-formed Ohio State football team endured shutout losses to Wooster, Denison, and Kenyon. The once-annual games gave way to a 48-year deep freeze as Ohio State developed into a national power — and came to view games against in-state opponents as lose-lose endeavors — before coming full circle when Bowling Green visited Ohio Stadium in 1992.
OSU has won 38 straight meetings with Ohio schools, its last cautionary tale requiring a deep dive into history.
It was 1921, and the Buckeyes’ 7-6 loss to Oberlin before a crowd of 9,000 at Ohio Field continues to puzzle. OSU was coming off a Rose Bowl season, reportedly outweighed Oberlin by an average of 24 pounds per man, and had thumped the Yeomen 128-0 five seasons earlier.
“If Mars had dropped from its place in the solar system and bumped into Mother Earth yesterday, it wouldn’t have caused any greater surprise in Columbus than that kicked up by little Oberlin when it licked Ohio State,” read the account in the Ohio State Journal.
Big brother has not eaten crow since, though OSU has endured some scares, most recently from Toledo in 2011. Coach Urban Meyer said he embraces playing Ohio’s MAC schools because he’s been on the other sideline. In two years at Bowling Green, his Falcons went 4-0 against power-conference teams.
"[The Golden Flashes] are going to be hungry coming in here, because this is their chance to play in front of 100,000 people," Meyer said. "I've been in that locker room. We went down to Missouri and won that first game [in 2001], and you'll see a hungry team trying to get a win."
Former coach Jim Tressel also liked the idea of keeping money in the state. The Buckeyes, for instance, will pay Kent State $850,000 to visit Columbus — a sizable percentage of the visitors’ $25.9 million athletics budget. By comparison, Ohio State reported $123 million in revenues last year.
Smith agrees, saying he will continue to give Ohio schools among the first dibs when the Buckeyes need an opponent from outside the power conferences. But Ohio State has played so many games against in-state colleges lately that he also wants to “change up the names a little bit” of the nonmarquee nonconference opponents. OSU added Tulsa in 2016, UNLV in 2017, and Oregon State in 2018. It may be the 2020s before OSU has space for another Ohio program.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.