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First half of January eases difficult end of 2023 Ohio State football season

It almost feels like someone flipped a light switch on for Ryan Day’s program since the dawn of the new year.

Minnesota v Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Getty Images

Things seem a lot less dark now for Ohio State’s football program than it did following an embarrassingly poor showing (offensively, at least) against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. In fact, the news out of Columbus has been almost embarrassingly good ever since the night of Dec. 29. If the last two weeks don’t prove how premature those cries of, “the sky is falling!” were, then perhaps nothing will.

Whether the positive vibes will continue through the spring and carry over into the 2024 season remains to be seen, but aside from the expected departure of Marvin Harrison Jr. to the NFL Draft and the additions of Mike Hall’s and Matthew Jones’ names being thrown into the Sunday league hat as well, things could hardly have gone better for Ryan Day heading into 2024.

The Buckeyes could have lost a large number of players with remaining eligibility to the NFL, but only Harrison (which was a no-brainer) and Hall opted to depart after that Cotton Bowl loss. The rest of the guys in question are all returning, whether to improve their draft prospects or due to, “unfinished business.” Regardless of the reason, it was a welcome sight to see so many “I’m back!” posts on social media over the last couple of weeks.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes could reasonably have expected to lose starting running back TreVeyon Henderson, starting wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, and starting guard Donovan Jackson. All will be back in 2024. If thought of in terms of a recruiting class, it was a tremendous haul for the Buckeyes to get three starters back who could have turned pro.

But things didn’t stop there for the offense. Will Howard committed to Ohio State out of the transfer portal from Kansas State. Howard’s numbers were similar to Kyle McCord’s, only without nearly as talented a supporting cast. If he can adapt quickly, Howard’s experience and proven ability as a starter should boost Day’s offense in 2024. Ohio State also added an experienced Power Five starter on the offensive line in former Alabama center Seth McLaughlin.

The bigger transfer news, however, is the arrival of transfer Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss. Judkins is a stud and could have replaced Henderson without missing a beat. But now he won’t have to carry the load alone, as the Buckeyes find themselves with a tremendous pair ahead of standout “spare” Dallan Hayden, who could still find his way into the portal in the spring, but hopefully will be willing to not only bide his time until he’s RB1, but also keep himself ready in case Henderson suffers another injury. Either way, with a redshirt year behind him, Hayden stands to see more carries for the Buckeyes in 2024 if he stays.

Even freshman wide receiver Bryson Rodgers pulled his name out of the transfer portal, which is like getting an additional four-star recruit — only one who already has a year in the system under his belt.

If that’s all we went through since the Cotton Bowl, that would probably be enough to satisfy most fans. But wait, as they say, there’s more!

Things look even rosier on the defensive side of the ball, where the Buckeyes took a major step forward in 2023. An incredible treasure trove of talent opted to return to Columbus for the 2024 season, including starting defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, starting defensive tackle Tyleik Williams and key rotation lineman Ty Hamilton, and starting defensive backs Jordan Hancock, Denzel Burke, and Lathan Ransom.

It borders on shocking that all of those guys opted to run it back one more time in 2024, looking at a solid shot at winning the Big Ten and being part of the first 12-team College Football Playoff.

The great news doesn’t stop with the players. Day performed some addition by subtraction on the coaching staff by letting go of Parker Fleming as special teams coordinator. Most teams without a dedicated special teams coach outperformed Ohio State by leaps and bounds over the last few years and a change was desperately needed… well, a while ago, if we’re being honest.

Could we stop seeing guys catch punts inside the 5-yard line, fair catching the ball with 20 yards of open space in front of them, or failing to do even the basic things like lining up correctly in 2024? Sure, but it sure feels less likely to happen in a post-Fleming world.

Additionally, Perry Eliano is out as safeties coach, replaced by Matt Guerrieri. The safety position has been… let’s call it problematic… in recent years. Hopefully Guerrieri can fine tune that position group and make it another strength of Jim Knowles’ defense.

And none of the above even touches on recruiting, which continues to be strong, with Tim Walton emerging as a Brian Harline, only for cornerbacks. There may even be more to come on that front, with players decommitting from programs after their would-be future coaches have left for greener pastures or retired.

The current trend among football fans is that whenever things aren’t going well, we scream “fire everyone!” from the rooftops (although usually those rooftops happen to be social media apps rather than literal rooftops). The collective fear is that the Buckeyes will suffer the kind of prolonged downturns that programs like Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, Florida, and USC have endured in recent years. Some of those have rebounded, while others haven’t quite gotten there yet.

I won’t go so far as to say that Ohio State is “recession proof” or anything, but it’s important to keep in mind that the Buckeyes don’t lack either resources or brand recognition. It will take more than a couple of 11-2 seasons to knock Ohio State out of the list of top national programs.