May 3, 2016
Ohio State will play in at least four prime-time conference games this season, with the possibility—or perhaps likelihood—that the Big Ten Network will be adding another game under the lights to the Buckeyes’ 2016 slate.
Add in a Week 3 showdown at Oklahoma that will possess no shortage of national interest, and it’s conceivable half of Ohio State’s upcoming regular schedule will consist of night games.
Which is just the way that Meyer likes it.
“I love tradition,” Meyer said in 2013 during an appearance on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. “But I love recruiting better.”
But beyond the obvious recruiting advantages of playing in a prime-time spot on a consistent basis, ESPN’s choice to prop up the Buckeyes as the Big Ten’s most prominent team is telling from a big-picture perspective as well.
For all the talk of Jim Harbaugh’s ascent at Michigan and the reality of Michigan State having won two of the past three Big Ten titles, it’s still Ohio State that finds itself as the conference’s top draw, despite the departures of 16 starters from last year’s team, including 12 NFL draft picks and five first-rounders.
“We’re not going to change our standards, and that was a message all week to our players,” Meyer said following the Buckeyes’ spring game last month. “We certainly don’t lower our standards just because a player moves on—that’s not what this place is all about.”
The schedule-makers—or more accurately, TV executives—seem to agree, giving the Buckeyes twice as many prime-time games in the Big Ten portion of their schedule as any other team in the conference. Harbaugh may dominate the conversation during college football’s offseason, but the Wolverines will only be featured twice in prime-time play during their conference slate, matching Wisconsin and Nebraska for the second-most nighttime Big Ten games in the coming year.
It is worth noting that Michigan previously declined to host night games at Michigan Stadium in the coming season. But at the moment, no other team in the league will play more than once at night in conference play, including Michigan State, who was shut out of ESPN’s prime-time slate.
Ohio State, meanwhile, will not only play in four nighttime games on ABC, ESPN or ESPN 2, but will do so in four consecutive weeks. The Buckeyes will travel to Wisconsin on Oct. 15 and Penn State on Oct. 22, before hosting Northwestern and Nebraska under the lights of Ohio Stadium in consecutive weeks.
This isn’t a mere matter of Ohio State possessing a large alumni base and thus, a large following—although it certainly can lay claim to both. But since Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2012, the Buckeyes have become the standard in the conference with a combined 50-4 record, including 2014’s College Football Playoff championship.
That’s been reflected in Ohio State’s scheduling, which has seen a steady increase in prime-time games with each passing year of the Meyer era.
In 2012, the Buckeyes took part in three nighttime kickoffs, the same number they played the year prior to Meyer’s arrival. Meyer’s second season at Ohio State saw four prime-time tilts, and 2014 brought five night games, before adding three more in the postseason.
Last season, the Buckeyes took part in four night games, as a backloaded schedule likely prevented them from adding one more.
With just ESPN’s portion of the conference schedule having been announced, Ohio State has already matched that total from a year ago and will likely add one, if not two, more.
That’s just fine with Meyer, who has touted the recruiting advantages of night games since taking over as the Buckeyes head coach.
“As much respect as I have for the traditionalist, I want that 18-year-old to walk out of the stadium saying, ‘Wow, I have to be there,'” Meyer said. “I don’t want them to have to get up at four in the morning to drive to our games.”
The results have spoken for themselves, with Meyer strategically making his biggest recruiting weekends of the year ones where the Buckeyes happen to be hosting night games. With over-capacity crowds, alternate uniforms and celebrity sightings helping turn Ohio State’s prime-time tilts into must-see events, Meyer has landed four top-seven nationally ranked recruiting classes since 2012.
It also hasn’t hurt that more times than not, the who’s who list of prospects in attendance have witnessed a Buckeyes victory.
“We had a bunch of recruits in that locker room afterwards,” Meyer said following a win over Nebraska in 2012, his first nighttime victory as Ohio State’s head coach. “So you would start talking about future, you know, that’s the name of the game, is go out and recruit new players and continue and build and keep going.”
In four years, Meyer has done just that, as evidenced by ESPN’s decision to place the Buckeyes at the forefront of the conference in the coming year.
Michigan State may be the defending champs, but the Buckeyes remain the team to beat as there’s no debate who the Big Ten’s most prominent team will be entering 2016.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report’s Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.
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