CHICAGO — Success will be measured in the fall, not in July, as Ryan Day knows.
Everyone is optimistic this time of year, after all. But with Ohio State on a recruiting roll — its 2020 class is ranked second nationally — it would be hard to dispute that the first year of Day’s tenure as Urban Meyer’s successor as football coach is going as well as can be expected.
“I feel great about the team,” Day said at Big Ten media days on Thursday. “I love our team. I love our players. I love being around the guys. There are teams you’ve been around where it’s a labor to go to work. That’s not the case here.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
But not everyone is convinced that Ohio State will rule the Big Ten as it has the past two and for most of Meyer’s tenure. Because of the coaching change, inexperience at quarterback and a porous defense in 2018, that’s not the case this year. Michigan has been touted by some — not all — prognosticators as the Big Ten favorite.
“We see it, obviously,” senior receiver K.J. Hill said. “All you can do is use it as fuel and motivation to put your head down and go to work.”
Ohio State routed favored Michigan 62-39 last year for its seventh straight win over its archrival, but Hill didn’t take offense to the preseason predictions.
“Not really, because that was last year,” he said. “It’s a new year. A lot of (our) guys left, and a lot of guys stayed over there. We were the underdogs last year (vs. Michigan), and we’re underdogs again.
“I know how hard we worked because we were underdogs, and I’ve got to make sure we work the same way or even harder because we’re underdogs this year.”
That’s what Day is counting on. Except for a Fourth of July break, he said, the Buckeyes have been hard at work under the direction of strength coach Mickey Marotti and while working on their own.
The big question, of course, revolves around replacing quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. Justin Fields is a strong favorite to be the starter, but Day wouldn’t tip his hand, saying that Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak will also compete for the job.
Day said he hopes to name a starter by the end of the second week of training camp, which starts in two weeks. Ohio State’s opener is Aug. 31 against Florida Atlantic.
Day knows there will be growing pains, particularly at quarterback. He divided the schedule into segments, starting with the six games before the first of the Buckeyes’ two off weeks. He is counting on the team really hitting its stride the second half of the season.
That’s not to say that the standard has been lowered. Meyer didn’t lose more than two games in any season, a stat Day knows well. He believes the culture Meyer instilled and that he has kept intact will allow his team to weather any speed bumps.
At the core of that, he said, is tough love — the toughness to endure setbacks because of the love they’ve developed for one another.
“Guys love coming to work every day,” Day said. “(The idea is) if they put so much into it, there's no way in the fourth quarter they're going to give up because they've put so much into it.”
If others are a little more skeptical about the Buckeyes because of Meyer’s retirement, that’s not something Day and his players are consumed with.
“I've talked to our guys about the fact the expectations at Ohio State couldn't be any higher year in and year out,” Day said. “We know that. But if we focus on all that (preseason talk), we can get ourselves distracted because it really doesn't matter.”