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Has Ohio State football missed out by not being more active in the transfer portal, or have they instead built a stronger, more cohesive program?

Ryan Day and his staff have been very selective in this new era of CFB free agency. Time will tell if their approach has been the right one.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Since Ryan Day became the head coach at Ohio State, the team has brought in nine players via the transfer portal. They have watched 15 leave since the start of the 2021 season. Quite the disparity when you look at the three-year sample size, but no reason for concern, because the hit rate on those guys coming in has been better than most. And as for the players that left? With the exception of Jameson Williams, nothing to lose sleep over.

That hit rate I mentioned has been pretty, pretty, pretty good, to borrow a phrase from Larry David. Justin Fields? You already know. Jonah Jackson? Not bad. Trey Sermon and/or Noah Ruggles? Each may have saved a game or two for the Buckeyes. Three additional players – Tanner McCalister, Chip Trayanum, and Parker Lewis (can’t lose) have yet to suit up, meaning Day’s known success rate is almost unfathomably good with the transfers he has welcomed in. That being said, OSU’s sample size is much smaller than most other schools.

While it is hard to argue against Day’s winning percentage, some fans have openly questioned whether his lack of aggressiveness in the portal will eventually come back to haunt both he and the program. Fans have questioned many other things as well, but let’s narrow our focus for a bit.

Former Freshman All-American Eli Ricks was arguably the most sought-after free agent in CFB (for a time), and Ohio State was rumored to be in hot pursuit. Day and his staff eventually backed off, surprising some. When last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner and former Pitt WR Jordan Addison made a late exit from the school which helped turn him into a star – he was barely a top-300 recruit, and did not have many offers from the nation’s elite – there were whispers that he was waiting to hear from OSU. Whether a conversation ever took place, I don’t personally know, but if the Buckeyes had been aggressive pursuing one or both players, they likely would have earned additional praise from fans and/or media.

Whether those guys would have ultimately committed to Ohio State, or had any tangible impact, is up for debate. To me, it is all hypothetical, so there is no sense getting angry or frustrated that Ricks or Addison did not end up in Columbus. Ricks has not played a ton of football during the last two years, and there have been questions regarding his desire to do so at the college level. Addison has become a hell of a player, but OSU seemingly has a dozen of those already sitting in their WR room.

Rather than getting upset or questioning the staff’s motives, maybe we (Buckeye fans) should trust the head coach who has gone 34-4, and the new coaches he brought in — all of whom could be considered in a different category of transfers. I would even ask you this: would you rather have Eli Ricks or Jim Knowles? Jordan Addison, or multiple new coaches to help tighten up the secondary? Yeah... that’s what I thought.

Ohio State’s most important add for the 2022 season
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So has Ohio State missed out? I don’t think so. I think they have been selective by design. Many CFB teams have taken a different approach, to varying degrees of success. It worked out pretty damn well for Mel Tucker, but Oklahoma and Florida State were considered to be two of the “winners” of the 2021 portal, and their additions didn’t really move the meter.

Transfers could pay huge dividends in 2022 for a school like USC, but there are a lot of layers to that story. Money has also become a much larger factor, so not every situation is the same. But the fact remains, that OSU has not been adversely affected by their lack of activity in the transfer portal. There is no tangible evidence whatsoever.

Instead, I believe that Day and his coaching staff prefer good old-fashioned team building. Remember that? For as much of a new-school approach that these coaches have taken in just about every other area, they appear to be traditionalists when it comes to this one particular thing. And guess what? I dig it.

Ohio State is aiming for a level of comradery and cohesion that we don’t see every day. Not to get too over the top here, but I see it as a war between mercenaries and tight-knit soldiers. Day and his staff want to train and develop their guys from boot camp to the front line, while others prefer to bring in experienced private contractors. Either group is capable of winning a battle, but I don’t know what it means in the end.

Another way I look at it, is through the lens of the recently-completed NBA Finals. Both the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are “homegrown” teams (for the most part). They have succeeded, in large part, due to development within their own program. Sure, Golden State brought in Kevin Durant for a few seasons, but they have a core of players who have sustained success and kept the franchise competing at the highest level year after year. I think that is how Day views his window and OSU’s opportunity. Do they want to be the Lakers, who went all in for a championship in the bubble, only to regress? Or would the Buckeyes rather replicate the Warriors’ decade of excellence?

Now that I’ve made comparisons to war and the NBA, it is time to get back to the question at hand. I believe that Ohio State is building a stronger, more cohesive program. Could they be taken to the woodshed by Alabama, with Ricks, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Jermaine Burton — all coveted transfers? Yes, and they have been recently. But I expect OSU to be competing for a national title almost each and every season under Day. He is 3/3 so far, why start doubting him now?

Furthermore, I think brotherhood and family means a lot at the end of the day. We hear those things talked about constantly by former Buckeyes, and maybe I am being a homer, but I don’t hear the same words thrown around by USC, Oklahoma, or Florida State alums. Ohio State might ultimately fall short of winning a championship any time soon, but in my humble opinion, at least they are maintaining a program in the best possible way.