On Tuesday, it became official that Ohio State is ranked No. 6 in the College Football Playoff, one spot behind Oklahoma, and two spots away from the team’s ultimate goal: a chance to compete for a national championship.
But after the season Ohio State has had, is this another playoff or bust season?
To offensive coordinator Ryan Day, it is not.
“This is all about winning this championship,” Day said. “I’m so proud of the way these guys came out and played last week, after everything that we’ve been through this year, and nothing would be better than to go win this thing here.”
The championship Day is talking about is not a national one. Instead, it is the Big Ten Championship against No. 21 Northwestern on Saturday.
It can be said that Ohio State is expected to come in every season, make the playoff and compete for a national title. But what about in a season as rocky for the Buckeyes as any in the Urban Meyer era?
Ohio State’s head coach didn’t even start the season as head coach, with Day taking the interim duties for the first three games while Meyer sat at home following allegations of covering up the domestic abuse history of former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
When Meyer returned, the Buckeyes were 3-0, but nothing became easier.
After a hard-fought victory on the road against Penn State, Ohio State went through the “easy” part of its schedule and suffered a 29-point loss to Purdue.
Even in the weeks following the supposed “wake-up call,” the Buckeyes defeated two teams with sub-.500 records by less than one score.
It took a matchup against rival Michigan, one defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said takes 364 days of preparation, for Ohio State to look like a team ready to live up to the standards of a playoff team.
“Every week you pour 100 hours into preparation for the game,” Schiano said. “We always try to go out and play our best game, so we’re gonna do that regardless [what] experts think or committees think.”
After a 62-39 statement win against the then-No. 4 Wolverines, people again have their expectations at an Ohio State top-four finish.
But Schiano is focused on Saturday, and so is Day. Meyer said after the win that he isn’t focused on any committee, he isn’t interested in anything other than a win, regardless of how he gets it.
“It’s really hard to win a college football game,” Meyer said. “There’s never a bad win.”
The Buckeyes might be a dominant win against the Wildcats away from taking another shot at the national championship, and the momentum taken from Ohio State playing its best game against the best defense in the country could play a big factor.
The 23-point win against Michigan isn’t enough to call a typical Ohio State season successful, but there is something to be said about this Ohio State team.
After spending the first quarter of the season without their head coach, and after showing week in and week out why they should not be in the playoff conversation, here the Buckeyes are, right in the thick of playoff conversation.
Ohio State still doesn’t control its own destiny. The No. 5 Sooners are more firmly in control, and are a big win against No. 14 Texas away from cementing themself over the Buckeyes, assuming No. 1 Alabama takes care of No. 4 Georgia.
On Sunday after the Big Ten Championship, the decision made by the College Football Playoff committee on Ohio State’s fate could make or break what is considered a successful season for fans of the team.
But to Day, who started the season as the acting head coach, who has seen the difficulties this team has faced on this bumpy road to being one of six teams with a legitimate shot at a national title, he just wants to see Ohio State at its best once again.
“Everything that’s happened this year hasn’t been easy, these games haven’t been easy, you know we’ve been kind of working through it and the kids have been kind of working through it and then we put it all together in the game last week,” Day said. “Now, if we can just play our best football at the end of the season, I think it’ll be a great story about what these kids have been through.”
It remains to be seen if Ohio State fans will get the storybook ending to the story they want. But for now, maybe the fact that the Buckeyes are even in this position after a season like this is a story in its own right.