As the college football landscape continues to evolve, so, too, does the structure of the Big Ten’s scheduling format. With UCLA and USC set to join the conference beginning in 2024, the conference announced on Thursday it will do away with divisions in conjunction with the expansion to 16 teams.
The 2024 season will debut the Big Ten’s “Flex Protect Plus” scheduling model, which features a combination of protected opponents and rotating opponents for universities. Each team will continue to play nine conference games each season, and teams will play every other conference opponent at least twice — once home and once away — over a four-year period.
A total of 11 matchups will be protected annually to preserve some of the conference’s most historic and geographic rivalries, as well as the numerous trophy games that exist in the conference. Ohio State will have just one protected game — Michigan — on its schedule each year. The preservation of the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan comes as no surprise given its longstanding status as one of the game’s biggest annual spectacles, but the exclusion of Penn State as a protected matchup will likely turn some heads.
Speaking on the Big Ten Network on Thursday following the scheduling announcement, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said he’s fine with Penn State not being a protected game given that only so many games could be protected while still ensuring the balanced schedule across the entire conference. Smith noted that while games against Penn State had developed into a “competitive rivalry” for Ohio State, the 11 protected games all feature matchups steeped in tradition and history that didn’t quite exist with Penn State.
“In order to meet the balance of trying to ensure every team and every school had the opportunity over a four-year period to play at every place at least twice, you had to sacrifice some things,” Smith added. “The Flex Protect model allows us to meet that criteria, but at the same time, we needed to make sure we provided the flexibility to meet that criteria.”
In the 2024 season, Ohio State’s Big Ten slate will feature five home games and four away games. The home games will include Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Michigan, while the four road trips will consist of Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, and UCLA. Dates for the games will be announced during the upcoming season.
In addition to the nine-game conference schedule, Ohio State’s 2024 non-conference schedule is also set with home games against Southern Mississippi, Western Michigan, and Marshall.
The 2025 schedule is shaping up to be daunting for Ohio State with the first game of a home-and-home series with Texas already on the books. USC will also visit Columbus that year for the first game between the two storied programs as conference foes, and the Buckeyes must travel to Wisconsin and Michigan to round out what is sure to be among the most difficult schedules in the country.
Ohio State’s full Big Ten slate in 2025 includes home games against Indiana, Maryland, and Nebraska in addition to USC. Road games include trips to Illinois, Northwestern, and Purdue along with the trips to Wisconsin and Michigan. While Ohio State must still add a game to its non-conference slate, a midseason game against UConn is already scheduled for Oct. 18, 2025, along with the Aug. 30 visit from Texas.
Perhaps the most notable takeaway of the new scheduling model for Ohio State fans is the very real possibility of Ohio State and Michigan meeting for a rematch just one week after their regular season-ending meeting. With no division winners in place, the top two records in the Big Ten will now advance to the Big Ten Championship Game. Given the recent dominance of the two programs in the conference, fans likely won’t need to wait too long for one of the sport’s best rivalries to be played on its biggest stage yet.
“(Michigan Athletic Director) Warde (Manuel) and I talked about that, and we agreed to that for the betterment of the league relative to our overall scheduling format and for our television partners. At the end of the day, we needed to accept that that is a possibility,” Smith said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.