The question was asked, innocently enough, as a group of writers sat around Monday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center waiting between interview sessions.
Is Florida A&M the worst team the Ohio State Buckeyes have played on the gridiron in the past few seasons? Or perhaps even ever?
I have to admit, I was curious to know the answer. In this era of guarantee games and FCS opposition, this is the nature of the beast, as each season, the Buckeyes welcome some overmatched foes to Columbus. And a quick look at the numbers shows this very well might be the biggest mismatch in Ohio Stadium in recent years.
The point of this is not to embarrass Florida A&M’s program or players. But when you see the Vegas line – which opened at 57 points according to Vegas Insider before settling around 50 at most books – there’s no use pretending this is supposed to be an even matchup.
Florida A&M was just 4-7 a season ago and is 1-2 entering Ohio Stadium, coming off of consecutive losses to Tennessee State (165th in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings) and Samford (147th). The Rattlers have averaged 18.0 points per game this year, their rushers average 3.0 yards per carry and their quarterback has a pass efficiency mark of 93.4.
On the other hand, Ohio State is coming off a 12-0 campaign and is 3-0 going into this game. The Buckeyes average 44.7 points per game, have posted 6.1 yards per rush and their two quarterbacks have a pass efficiency mark of 163.4.
So yes, one team simply appears to be better than the other, something that shows up in the rankings as well. The Buckeyes are 15th in the current Sagarin ratings, not to mention third in the coaches’ poll and fourth in the AP writers’ poll. Florida A&M, meanwhile, is 219th in Sagarin’s rankings (though the Rattlers are the second-ranked A&M school in the nation).
That’s how you get to a 57-point margin. To put that in perspective, the Buckeyes haven’t won a game by that many points since the 72-0 victory against Pittsburgh in 1996. Heck, the Buckeyes have scored more than 57 points only thrice since then, dropping 73 on Eastern Michigan in 2010, 63 on Nebraska last year and 58 on Northwestern in ’07.
In other words, it’s a fair to wonder if this is the biggest mismatch we’ve seen in Columbus in quite some time (especially if you’re one of the people who is paying upwards of $70 to get in, but that’s neither here nor there).
As it turns out, it actually appears to be, if you go by Sagarin’s rankings. Listed below are the lowest ranked teams in Sagarin’s final rankings that Ohio State has faced each year, going back as far as the Sagarin rankings go on USA Today's website. Obviously, that means those were not the same rankings as when the Buckeyes actually faced the team, but it’s the best we can do right now.
2012: UAB 142 (OSU won 29-15)
2011: Akron 198 (OSU won 42-0)
2010: Eastern Michigan 183 (OSU won 73-20)
2009: New Mexico State 152 (OSU won 45-0)
2008: Youngstown State 198 (OSU won 43-0)
2007: Kent State 139 (OSU won 48-3)
2006: Illinois 85 (OSU won 17-10)
2005: Illinois 96 (OSU won 40-2)
2004: Marshall 106 (OSU won 24-21)
2003: Indiana 121 (OSU won 35-6)
2002: Kent State 155 (OSU won 51-17)
2001: San Diego State 104 (OSU won 27-12)
2000: Miami University 103 (OSU won 27-16)
1999: Ohio 106 (OSU won 40-16)
1998: Illinois 90 (OSU won 41-0)
That's an average win of 38.8-9.2, a margin of more than four touchdowns (but certainly not 57 points). What’s funny, though, is that some of these games ended up being much closer than imagined.
In 1999, a slippery young quarterback named Dontrell Jackson at Ohio University gave OSU a run for its money, while the Buckeyes needed a last-second field goal from Mike Nugent to down Marshall in 2004. Juice Williams nearly orchestrated a stunning comeback win vs. OSU in 2006 – foreshadowing, perhaps, Illinois’ win in Ohio Stadium a year later – while even last year, the Buckeye had trouble getting going in what was a close win over UAB.
In other words, Florida A&M has its work cut out for it – after all, Ohio State hasn’t lost any of the above games – but stranger things have happened if the Rattlers keep it close for a while.
One last note: It’s not like Ohio State is the only big school dipping into the lower reaches of the Football Championship Subdivision to schedule opponents. Ohio State's spread isn't even the biggest of the week; Miami (Fla.) is favored by 60 over Savannah State, just the third 60-plus point spread in history.
In addition, Oklahoma State posted a 59-3 win vs. 197th-ranked Lamar earlier this year, while Oregon jumped Ohio State in the AP poll after opening the year with a 66-3 thumping of No. 194 Nicholls State. Top-ranked Alabama, meanwhile, will face 213th-ranked Georgia State later this year.
Hey, maybe that’s the secret to moving up in the polls!