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Burning Question You’re Nuts: Is this a make-or-break year for Ryan Day?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Is this a make-or-break year for Ryan Day?

Jami’s Take:

It feels insane to even be considering a world in which a coach who has a 34-4 record in his first three seasons at the Buckeyes’ head coach could be facing a make-or-break season, but it’s entirely possible that this year will determine how history remembers him.

When you consider Day’s accomplishments during his three seasons at the helm, which include 23 consecutive conference wins, consecutive Big Ten Championships in 2019 and 2020, and consecutive CFP appearances in 2019 and 2020, plus a Rose Bowl win to finish the 2021 season, the stakes don’t seem make-or-break-it at face value.

But it’s Ohio State football — the stakes are always make-it-or-break-it. And even with those accolades, some feel the Buckeyes haven’t been at the best they can be. They haven’t won a National Championship under Day, for example, and the Buckeyes need to perform better against SEC teams.

Last season would have been an excellent showing for most teams, but for Ohio State, two-loss seasons will always be hard to swallow, especially when one of them is against Michigan (Day’s only conference loss in three seasons as head coach). The defense was abysmal throughout the season, and ultimately the Buckeyes didn’t deliver when it counted (though they did show up in earnest with a great performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl).

Day has taken steps to improve the defense, including the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, but the pressure is certainly on this season to win the conference at the very least, which will require drastic improvements on D.

Day, who was contracted through 2026 but was granted another 2-year extension in May, will remain with the Buckeyes through at least 2028. This adds another level of pressure. The contract extension came at a controversial time, after his worst season as head coach. The extension came with a nearly $2 million raise — he will earn $9.5 million annually once it kicks in.

But with a high price tag come high expectations. Fans will be expecting nothing less than conference titles and at least one National Championship. Day will need to make sure his team is ready to take on the top-caliber SEC teams. And he needs to open this season with a win against Notre Dame.

In my mind, Day has to be cut some slack given the strangeness of the last two seasons with covid. He also deserves a chance to put all of his own puzzle pieces in place, and if this season’s recruiting class lives up to expectations, his puzzle might very well be a smash success. But he can’t afford sloppy errors that impact the Buckeyes’ title chances if he hopes to stay in the fans’ good graces.

This season could be Ryan Day’s chance to cement his legacy as one of the greatest head coaches the Buckeyes have ever seen, but if he fails to live up to the high expectations he’s shouldering, it’s possible Buckeye fans could be moaning and groaning when they hear his name.

Matt’s Take:

First thing’s first, I am in absolutely no way saying that Ryan Day is on the hot seat. I have been well chronicled in the hallowed pages of this esteemed web establishment that I think Ryan Day is the right coach and the right human for the present and future of the Ohio State football program, but I do think that is by far the most important year thus far in his relatively short tenure, but also for the foreseeable future.

Offense has never been a problem for Day’s teams, due in no small part to his propensity for getting the most out of his already talented quarterbacks. So I do not anticipate a massive dropoff in production once C.J. Stroud leaves for the NFL following this season. However, I think that many informed onlookers would find it a considerable failure if after two years of Justin Fields and two more of Stroud — not to mention Brian Hartline’s never-ending conveyor belt of top-flight receivers — the Buckeyes did not win a national championship, or at least seriously contend for one.

Now I know that they played Alabama for the national title following the wonky 2020 season, but I watched that game same as you, and if you can seriously say to me that you thought that the Buckeyes ever legitimately contended in the game, I will seriously say to you that you are a liar.

Therefore in 2022, Day’s squad needs to take a considerable step forward; no small task given their relative success through the coach’s first three years, but a necessary one nonetheless. Whichever quarterback is named the starter in 2023 — Kyle McCord, Devon Brown, or anyone else who might be on the Buckeye roster come this time next year — will have very big shoes to fill, and as much as I believe in what Day and Corey Dennis have built, it is tough to hang your hat on elite level quarterbacking year-after-year.

So, if the offense takes even the slightest step backward following this season, that inherently, means that the defense will need to pick up the slack, and whether or not that side of the ball will be up for that task depends a lot on what we see this fall.

Much has been made of Jim Knowles’ reconfigured defense and the promise it provides, but as we sit here, two-ish weeks away from the start of fall camp, we really don’t know what to expect from that side of the ball under the new regime. Being the perennial wearer of scarlet-colored glasses that I am — and given the depths to which that unit had sunk since the departure of Jeff Hafley — I believe that the defense will be more than marginally improved this fall.

Will the improvement see the Buckeyes reborn as the Silver Bullets in the first quarter of the season opener against Notre Dame? Of course not. But I do believe that there will be a noticeable change from Game 1 and steady improvement throughout the season, really ramping up as OSU gets into the thick of the Big Ten season.

However, if Ohio State’s defense struggles to find its footing under the new regime, I don’t think that bodes well for Day. Again, I don’t think that he gets fired or opts to explore those omnipresent NFL opportunities, but I do think it would put a damper on what he is building.

Currently, Day’s program is undoubtedly in the upper echelon of college football, but a significant step behind Alabama and Georgia. While the inherent advantages bestowed upon any Ohio State coach almost certainly will never allow the program to fall too far down the blue blood ladder, if the types of recruits that OSU needs to take a step into the top tier of college football — especially on the defensive side — see a program that has seemingly hit a glass ceiling, that could have far-reaching negative effects.

In my opinion, there needs to be obvious and considerable progress on the defensive side of the ball this season. In 2021, the Buckeyes ranked 59th in total defense (and 96th in passing D), so I don’t expect them to immediately vault into the top 10, but some substantial upward movement would be nice. But it’s not just about rankings and stats, it’s the feeling that you get when you watch the defense play.

Is it like watching water pass through a sieve, where you are just hoping that the water somehow makes a mistake? Or do you feel relatively good about the sieve’s chances of catching the beans being strained from the soup (I’m sorry, I lost the metaphor there for a second, but you get the idea).

Ultimately, the Buckeyes’ success in 2022 will be determined by the strength of its offense, but if the other side of the ball can make even moderate gains, it will go a long way to determining how much success Ryan Day and his team has this fall and potentially for years to come.


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