You can’t win ‘em all, folks. Such is the reality of college football, competition in general, and life as a whole. Ohio State and Buckeye Nation found out the hard way this past Saturday, as the football team was stuffed in a locker by their arch-rival.
But guess what? It’s not over. Just like it was not over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor! The Buckeyes still have a chance to back their way into a College Football Playoff appearance and exercise a few demons. And if they don’t, well, life goes on. And OSU will likely be right back in the hunt again... and again... and again.
(Editor’s Note: Please stop with the Tweets and emails, if you didn’t get the historical reference in this paragraph, that’s on you. Educate yourself and enjoy one of the best speeches in the illustrious history of American cinema.)
120+ schools and teams in college football would give anything to be in the same enviable position, so maybe we as fans of the scarlet and gray should take a chill pill. I hear they can be quite helpful during the holiday season.
Now, I am not trying to make excuses for Ohio State and in particular, Ryan Day. The Buckeyes were out-coached, under-prepared, and failed to adjust accordingly. Then, when cheeks got especially tight, the team lost its composure.
I say these things with confidence because the Buckeyes are/were the more talented team, and they still lost. And no, I do not need to be reminded that J.J. McCarthy and Donovan Edwards exist and were five-star recruits in their own right. OSU has a roster full of future NFL talent, far more than the roster up north. But talent alone does not dictate outcomes. The game of football is played on a field and between two sidelines, not on paper.
However, Buckeye Nation does not want to hear about ownership of costly errors or promises to get and be better. No, they (we) simply want results. So here are some of the recent results everyone seems to be upset about:
Day is 45-5 as the head coach of Ohio State, which gives him the highest current winning percentage of all active FBS football coaches... All. Active. Coaches. Scoff at limited tenure and strength of schedule all you want, but I would also remind you that Jim Tressel lost an average of 2.2 games per season while in Columbus, and Urban Meyer fumbled away games he had no business losing (to inferior Big Ten opponents).
Day got the Clemson monkey off OSU’s back, was a blown call away from beating them twice, has never lost to a non-TTUN Big Ten opponent, and is 15-5 against top-25 opponents. Do those five losses hurt? Hell yes they do, and Day should be held primarily responsible for all of them. But is there anything to be said for learning on the job?
The Buckeyes’ head coach is 43 years old and took over a job which would cause many, more experienced head coaches to piss down their leg. Losses in the most crucial games mean that he has mildly underachieved by only the highest of high standards, but anyone calling for Day’s job is borderline delusional... this year.
Who would you rather have instead, Nick Saban? How about Knute Rockne or Bear Bryant, would either of them suffice? Great coaches do not grow on trees. Just ask Miami, USC, or TTUN, to name a few. Those programs recently dealt with literal decades of poor coaching and/or mistakes in hiring. Speaking of TTUN...
Let’s stick with results. Day is 1-2 against Jim Harbaugh. That sucks. But did we expect Ohio State to dominate The Game for 30 years? 40? OSU has 17 wins over Michigan (you got me, they’ve earned it temporarily) since 2000, but the latter is CFB’s winningest program. Ever! The Buckeyes should lose to them occasionally. We are not talking about Arkansas State here.
And do not overlook Harbaugh. For as goofy as this man comes across – and he most certainly does – his results are pretty damn impressive. Captain Khaki went 29-6 at San Diego, won an Orange Bowl with Stanford, and coached in a Super Bowl at the next level. We should stop acting like last weekend’s loss came to Derek Mason and the 2020 Vanderbilt Commodores. Including Harbaugh, I would actually argue that Day has only lost to a few elite coaches and elite programs, although Mario Cristobal is doing his best to fall out of favor with Club Elite.
Is it the manner in which Ohio State has lost recently that has fans in a tizzy? I get that. But again, I would bring up the whole learning curve thing, in regard to Day or any head coach. His (Day) first loss came in a CFP semifinal. His second came at the hands of Nick Saban and a historically-great Alabama team, in the national title game! Three and four? Well, OSU got smacked around in both, and there is no acceptable justification.
But you know what Day did in response? He fired people. He went out, and with Gene Smith’s help, acquired the premier coaching free agent on the market to fix defensive woes. He gave his best effort to correct certain mistakes. And most importantly, he owned each and every one of the losses. He always has. Loss No. 5 was especially hurtful, but all the pieces were in place for a victory. The Buckeyes (and all of their coaches) simply failed to execute better than the Wolverines last Saturday.
As for those players on the field, what more could anyone ask for? The vast majority performed at, or above expectations, for 11.5 games this season. Want All-Americans and All-Big Ten players? Ohio State has plenty of those. Young building blocks and former five-star recruits foaming at the mouth to make an impact? Yep, got those too. Good dudes? Seems like it. Competitors? No doubt. Tough guys? Well, that is TBD. But I personally believe in this roster, as well as the coaches’ ability to prepare players for war. It comes down to battles, and the Buckeyes just so happen to have lost a few costly ones in recent years.
I will not argue with the opinion (or fact) that Ohio State should win some of these bigger games. No matter who the coach is, or which team they are facing. Almost winning the Big Ten in not deserving of any accolades or trophies. Day knows it, the OSU players know it, and we as fans are quick to remind them. But to borrow from a certain pleated pant-wearing, steak and milk-consuming, slumber party-having son of a gun: Who’s got it better than us? The answer is very, very few.
So to all the “woe is me” Buckeye fans out there: Suck it up, buttercup. Life and, by extension, college football is not a video game. Nor is Ohio State afforded the luxury of facing CFB’s version of the Washington Generals on a weekly basis. Instead, they compete against 130 other programs to chase a championship which only 12 have won since the turn of this century — including OSU. They have been on the precipice of doing so each and every season since Day took over. They have been in the hunt, but unable to complete the kill. Hopefully that mission is completed sooner than later, but pissing and moaning from fans – and clamoring for some white knight to come in and save a team not really in need of saving – does not aid the process.
This Ohio State football team is well-positioned to remain in the hunt for years to come. Check the depth chart. Check the future recruiting rankings. Or simply check out the win rate since December 4, 2018. Take solace in those things, instead of dwelling on two consecutive losses to a top-3 rival... Sh*t happens. But it does not mean that the sky is falling on our beloved Buckeyes. Act accordingly, by rooting for the Utah Utes and/or Kansas State Wildcats this weekend. Go Bucks!