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Why marquee matchups like Oregon are worth risk for Buckeyes

Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football-Justin Fields
Ohio State can set the tone for the season with a non-conference matchup at Oregon. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Why marquee matchups like Oregon are worth risk for Buckeyes

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the marquee matchup at Oregon? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Ohio State has no trouble drawing ratings no matter who it plays.

But put a marquee opponent on the other sideline, and it’s a lock that the Buckeyes will command nationwide attention — which is exactly what will happen in Week Two at Oregon against another College Football Playoff contender.

From that perspective alone, Ohio State will accept the risk and take the reward of having its program on a huge stage, proving it’s unafraid of a challenge and putting its stars on display for everybody from awards voters to future recruits who want to play at the highest level.

But that’s not the only benefit to aggressive scheduling. And the Buckeyes don’t have to look far to see how significant a road win over a top-10 program can be when it comes to making the playoff. Without that win at Oklahoma in 2016 to tip the scales, Ohio State wouldn’t have earned its spot in the field that year — and while that Fiesta Bowl was surely a painful experience, it’s always preferable to have a shot to play for the national title while the rest of the postseason slate continues to fade in relevance.

Yes, the selection committee has so far failed to demonstrate much open-mindedness when it comes to two-loss teams or any consistency in general. No, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever, particularly since the sample size is still relatively small at this point. Aside from one obviously notable exception with the Buckeyes, there haven’t exactly been many teams with a resum√© strong enough to overcome multiple losses and put really put that issue to the test.

Rose Bowl-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State has its sights set on the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl in the College Football Playoff this year. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Going undefeated in the brutal East Division isn’t easy, and it’s one reason why there is such strong support here that the Big Ten champion should always get the SEC-style benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday even with a loss or two thanks to the strength of the league compared to the rest of the country. Maybe that line of thinking will eventually catch on, but it probably won’t happen without the powerhouses like Ohio State taking on challenges outside of the league. For their own good as much as the conference as a whole, it’s in the best interest of the Buckeyes to take on the best competition possible.

Along those same lines, college football is simply a more compelling product with matchups like Ohio State taking on Oregon and Michigan heading to Washington instead of both crushing MAC schools and just treating the non-conference slate like a tuneup. There is already something of an attendance crisis growing in the sport, and there is really no better way to combat that than by raising the bar and putting out a more appealing product. The Buckeyes have made a concerted effort to do that, but it’s just not possible to bring powerhouse programs to the Horseshoe without returning the trip — and those experiences are also why top-ranked recruits sign in Columbus anyway.

Sure, it would be helpful if there was uniformity across the country and there weren’t so many imbalances in strength of schedule. But all Ohio State can do is control its own approach, and it should be applauded for the work it has done to beef up the list of opponents — even if there is some risk involved.

Maybe the selection committee will eventually catch on that not all losses are created equal. Or the Buckeyes can just take matters into their own hands, beat the Ducks and come back to Ohio with a win that would reward them all season long.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.