There are three goals at Ohio State: win national titles, win the Big Ten and beat Michigan. If you accomplish all three, you become a legend. If you only accomplish two of them, you're beloved. If you only accomplish one of them, it better be beating Michigan.
Ryan Day hasn't accomplished any of those goals for three years running. That's why a coach who has gone 56-7 as coach of The Ohio State Buckeyes and 40-3 in conference play finds himself on the receiving end of a lot of anger and frustration from the Ohio State fanbase. And none of this should come as a surprise.
I said this would be the case last year. The night of last season's 45-23 loss to Michigan, I said on The Cover 3 Podcast reaction show that if Ryan Day and Ohio State failed to beat Michigan for the third straight time and didn't win the Big Ten, he'd be in trouble. The pitchforks, which were already being polished, would finally come out.
I also said none of it would make sense, but things making sense and the sport of college football don't find themselves in the vicinity of one another too often. While the SEC has developed a reputation of fan derangement (commonly referred to as "passion"), it is not the sole possessor of delusion amongst its constituency.
A sane person looks at the situation and points out Ryan Day has lost seven games. Those losses have come to Clemson (2019 CFP semifinal), Alabama (2020 title game), Oregon (2021 regular season), Georgia (2022 CFP semifinal) and the three losses to Michigan. Oregon is the "worst" loss of the bunch, and the Ducks reached the Pac-12 Championship Game that season. That sane person says three playoff appearances and a Rose Bowl in your first four years as coach are incredible accomplishments and points out the Buckeyes were a missed 50-yard field goal away from likely winning a national title last season. A sane person says these things. A college football fan says, "Yeah, but they've lost to Michigan three times in a row, stupid."
Neither one is wrong.
Day certainly realizes this. It's evident by everything that the Buckeyes have done in 2023. Following last season's loss, Day initially planned to give up play-calling duties to Brian Hartline. It was short-lived, but while Day continued to call plays, there was a noticeable difference in Ohio State's offense this season, and not only because C.J. Stroud was gone.
Plenty of detractors felt Ohio State's problem with Michigan was a result of Michigan being the "tougher" team. Ohio State was "soft." Given that Ohio State suddenly played a style of football that looked a lot more like the Michigan teams that have beaten it lately (goodbye style points, hello mashing teams into the dirt), and that Day's reaction to pulling off a great win at Notre Dame earlier this year was to yell at Lou Holtz for questioning his team's toughness, it's clear the talk got to him. It's also a testament to Day's leadership that, despite all of his success, he still felt there were things he had to improve.
But it doesn't matter because Ohio State lost to Michigan. Again. The good -- or sane -- news is that, while the pitchforks are out, I don't see Ohio State firing Ryan Day any time soon. Both because the people in charge aren't as insane as the fans and because athletic director Gene Smith is retiring next summer. I'm not sure Smith wants firing Ryan Day and conducting a coaching search to be the coda to what's been an incredibly successful run in Columbus, Ohio..
That doesn't mean Day will be back next year, though. The rumors that he'd leave Ohio State for Texas A&M (because there's no better way to escape the pressure of unrealistic expectations than by taking the Texas A&M job!) or any other school is silly, but if news breaks that Day has accepted an NFL head coaching job this offseason, it won't be much of a surprise. Ohio State is one of the best jobs on the planet for a football coach, but it's also one of the most difficult.
Leaving it could be the sanest decision of all.
Bad Process, Good Result of the Week
Speaking of delusional fan bases, Duke's Mike Elko. It's a great hire for Texas A&M, and I have no idea how it will work out. It was nearly a disaster, however.. It's
News broke Saturday night that A&M was on the verge of naming Kentucky's Mark Stoops its new head coach, but it was short-lived. Whether it was backlash from the fan base, Mark Stoops changing his mind, or both, the deal went south quickly. Whatever happened, I was worried that Texas A&M was about to make the same mistake it'd made before. When powerful boosters are involved, schools often worry about showing off with their coaching hire rather than making a sensible move (again, sanity and college football do not run in the same circle) and trying to win the press conference when they need to be trying to win games.
Initial fan (and possibly booster) revolt against Stoops was an indication this could be happening in College Station, where the Kentucky coach might not have been good enough for the Aggies despite the fact he's had more 10-win seasons in the SEC at a tougher place to win than A&M has. But then the Aggies went and redeemed themselves.
Mike Elko is precisely the kind of coach the program needs. It's the kind of hire that says you have high expectations, but you also know you have plenty of work to do to achieve them, and the work isn't simply "have a high-ranked recruiting class." Elko is familiar with College Station, having spent time there as a defensive coordinator, and he won a lot of games in a short time at Duke and likely would've won a few more had his star quarterback Riley Leonard not gone down with an injury at the end of a loss to Notre Dame.
UPS Driver of the Week
I know I've spent a lot of time calling college football fans insane in this column, but I remind you that I am a college football fan myself. I speak from experience. I also know that college football fans know how to treat other college football fans, so when you're home trying to watch the Iron Bowl, and the UPS driver is ringing your doorbell, you ask them if they want to come in and watch Alabama pull off a miracle.
As I watched the Iron Bowl, I spent the entire time thinking Alabama would win the game. It had beaten itself more than Auburn was beating it, and I figured the universe would sort itself out before the clock expired. But then Alabama kept beating itself in the final minutes, and when that snap near the goal line went flying past Jalen Milroe I finally thought Alabama was going to lose to Auburn a week after Auburn had lost to New Mexico State.
But then fourth-and-31 happened. While Alabama has had plenty of things go its way over the years, it must've felt nice to be on the winning end of an Iron Bowl miracle for once.
Saddest Photo of the Week
I never thought a photo of two mascots would stir such emotion in me, but I fully admit to getting teary-eyed when I saw this tweet. Rivalry week is always an excellent reminder of what the foundation of this wonderful sport is, and I remain concerned that we continue to chip away at that foundation with each passing season.
Don't worry; I won't yell at clouds this week. Instead, I'll say that on Friday night, watching Oregon dismantle Oregon State to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship, I briefly wondered if the Ducks weren't playing like the second-best team in the country at the moment. After watching Michigan beat Ohio State, I'll bump them down to third.
Still, the point is, while it isn't perfect, this is an Oregon team I wouldn't want to see in the College Football Playoff. They'll never admit it publicly, but I guarantee you there are coaches on staffs at CFP contenders who will be rooting for Washington on Friday night.
Close Call of the Week
Following yesterday's Apple Cup win, Washington improved to 6-0 in one-score games this season. The Huskies are the only team in the country with more than four one-score wins and no one-score losses (Mizzou, Tulane and Ole Miss are all 4-0).— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) November 26, 2023
Speaking of Washington, the Huskies did it again. They improved to 12-0 with a walk-off field goal to beat Washington State in the Apple Cup 24-21. It's nothing new for the Huskies, who won their first four games of the season by an average of 32.8 points per game and have won the last eight by an average of 6.1.
All wins count the same in the standings, no matter the final score, but this season has to have taken at least 10 years off the lives of Washington fans. I'm sure they'll gladly pay the price if it ends with at least a Pac-12 title.
Social Media Graphic of the Week
Market Inefficiency of the Week
I saw the future of college football while watching Florida State outlast Florida in an ugly 24-15 game Saturday night. It was a battle of two teams down to their backup quarterbacks, though the stakes were much higher for Florida State.
It got me thinking about something we may see programs like Florida State and others with national title hopes start to do. There are a lot of quarterbacks in the transfer portal every year, and for the most part, they're all there in search of playing time elsewhere.
But in this age of NIL, will we see the powerhouse programs search for backup QB options and lure them with paydays? I see a guy like Mississippi State's Will Rogers enter the portal and think that'd be a great guy to have as a backup at Georgia, Ohio State, Florida State, or wherever. Rogers is good enough to start elsewhere, but he's already put plenty on tape during his career. If he wants to play in the NFL one day, teams know who he is, and I'm not entirely sure how much he'll improve his draft stock starting somewhere else in 2024.
He could improve his bank account quite a bit, though.
I use Rogers as an example, but it could be an experienced QB from anywhere. It's the most valuable position in the sport, and considering college football doesn't have a salary cap, it would make sense to invest in the entire depth chart, not just your starter. Sure, it would make recruiting and keeping kids out of high school more difficult, but it's already nearly impossible to keep a kid in your program at the position if he doesn't have a direct path to playing time. The possible reward is greater than the risk.
Box Score of the Week
So how does a team go about scoring 42 points and gaining 488 yards on only 35 plays? Easy! It scores on a 71-yard touchdown run, a 77-yard touchdown run, a 60-yard touchdown run, a 79-yard touchdown pass, an 82-yard touchdown pass, and a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Yep, Iowa State's six touchdowns in the game averaged 67 yards. None of its touchdown drives lasted longer than four plays, as running back Abu Sama finished with 276 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 16 carries, while Jaylin Noel caught 3 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. How did Kansas State allow so many big plays?
Well, it snowed, and Iowa State wore white. It's possible Kansas State couldn't see them.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
It seems pretty cut-and-dried this week.
- Florida State
Until the next Monday After!