Bucks prefer bigger challenges on schedule

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The matter is obviously out of the hands of Christian Bryant, and there's nothing any of his Ohio State teammates can do to change the schedule either.

And while the senior safety and the rest of the Buckeyes have consistently stressed the importance of maintaining focus this week, the unpredictable nature of college football and simply embracing another chance to play in their home stadium and win another game, they're certainly aware of the stature of the opponent coming in for a visit.

So if Bryant had been consulted or was magically granted the power to swap Florida A&M out for a program with a bit more prestige, he made it no secret he would pull the trigger and skip what on paper looks to be little more than a walkthrough before Big Ten play opens next week.

"I like to showcase our talent," Bryant said. "I would like to play bigger games, but I mean, it’s really out of our control. I’m not really sure who makes the schedule, but we still just have to go out there and face whatever team is put in front of us.

"I mean, we know the type of opponent we’re about to face this upcoming Saturday, but that really doesn’t give us any reason to lay off or slow down any of our tempo. In practice, we’re still going to go out there and practice like we’re facing a top-10 opponent."

Not counting its own scrimmages, the No. 4 Buckeyes will wrap up nonconference play on Saturday without having tangled with an actual top-10 opponent. And based on the latest rankings, they're not even slated to see one at all during the regular season with No. 14 Michigan currently the highest-rated team on Ohio State's schedule.

That relatively soft-looking schedule has its benefits, starting with what has long appeared to be a reasonable path to another undefeated mark at the end of November and a potential spot in the national title game. But the strength of schedule can also work against the Buckeyes if there's a logjam at the top of the polls and voters are left to compare the merits of either unbeaten or one-loss teams based on who they played.

Of course, there's nothing the Buckeyes can do now other than handle their business regardless of the opposition. But moving forward, the program has taken steps to beef up the schedule and avoid likely pushovers like Florida A&M in the future, particularly with strength of schedule expected to play an even more significant role in selecting participants for the four-team playoff set to debut next season.

Ohio State already has deals in place with powerhouse programs like Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Texas, TCU and Oregon in an effort to put at least one marquee showdown on the slate every season. And even with two other nonconference spots available when the Big Ten moves to a nine-game schedule within the league, athletic director Gene Smith has made it an emphasis to keep those filled with FBS-level squads.

That approach, even when it doesn't yield primetime matchups like a home-and-home series with the Sooners, sets up interesting, competitive games with programs like North Carolina, Boston College or Cincinnati.

And whether the Buckeyes have had any trouble getting locked in for the Rattlers or not this week, putting more recognizable names on the schedule should help them avoid any questions about their ability to do it down the road.

"These players are smarter than the coaches, so we need to do a very good job of coaching them and not looking past a team," coach Urban Meyer said. "You see it all the time, there's going to be one [upset] every year, maybe two, and there can't be one this week."

"It does make a difference. I could give you some coach-speak, but [the opponent] does make a difference."

For seniors like Bryant, they have no choice but to prepare as if a ranked opponent is coming to the Horseshoe. But the next wave of Buckeyes behind them shouldn't have to pretend as much as they gear up for Big Ten action.