These are uncertain times for Ohio State fans, and not just because of the struggle to decide between wearing a scarlet or gray mask to the market. Will there be a season? (Probably.) Will any of the starters get the coronavirus (Likely.) Will Ryan Day ever lose a regular-season game? (Of course, although maybe not in 2020.)
So much ambiguity, but not knowing the future of college football should not be mistaken for not caring about it.
On an interest scale of 1 to 10, the Buckeyes register a Spinal Tap 11. Fans scrape obsession forks across their OSU dessert plate to not miss collecting the smallest crumb of news.
That was not true 25 years ago, before social media, recruiting ratings and websites popped up dedicated to online topics as specific as which coaches are on the hot seat.
Even a decade ago, writing about Ohio State football in late June signified desperation during the local sports dry period. Not anymore. If quarterback Justin Fields flirts with breaking 90 on the golf course, someone will report it. Podcasts will spend 10 minutes on it. Columnists ahem will analyze the big-picture ramifications: "Will golf improve or hurt Fields’ throwing motion?"
Given the seriousness of fan addiction, a fix is in order. Today we explore college football dynasties and wonder if the Buckeyes are on the verge of becoming one. We also look at what Day needs to accomplish to move onto the Mount Rushmore of Ohio State coaches that currently features Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Paul Brown. (Check out our football podcast at buckeyextra.com/podcast for a debate discussion of which coaches should be enshrined in granite.)
Dynasties are devilish creatures to define. We can agree that Michael Jordan’s Bulls were a dynasty. Ditto the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics and Wayne Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers. The New England Patriots played in half of all Super Bowls during Tom Brady’s 18 seasons as a starter, winning six of the nine. That qualifies.
What of Alabama under Nick Saban? The Crimson Tide has won five national titles over 11 seasons during Saban’s 13 years in Tuscaloosa. That equals a dynasty, but things get tricky with college football because the road to a championship still depends on rankings to make the playoff. In other words, dynasties are subject to subjectivity.
Clemson is getting closer to reaching the rarefied air of dynasty, but the Tigers are not there yet. To rule the world you need to win the championship game, not just reach it. Joe Burrow and LSU got in the way last season. Might Ohio State block Clemson’s path this year?
The Buckeyes have become a Big Ten dynasty by compiling a 78-11 record over the past decade, including three consecutive conference championships. But nationally they are not there yet.
What would it take? Well, the same thing required of Day to become an Ohio State legend. National championships. I thought the Buckeyes stood a solid shot at beginning a potential dynasty run last season, but losing to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl playoff game forced a reset. It’s happened before. Consider these headlines after OSU defeated Oregon to win the 2014 national championship: "Ohio State could be starting a dynasty under Urban Meyer," wrote The Washington Post; and "Ohio State’s reign is only beginning after national title win over Oregon," predicted Sports Illustrated.
Guess again. There exists no authorized granter of dynasty status, but it seems reasonable that Ohio State would need to win at least three national championships over the next decade to make the grade. Including the 2014 championship, that would give the Buckeyes four titles in 16 years. It would not be quite what Bama has accomplished under Saban, but impressive all the same.
Day has it "easier." The second-year coach needs two national titles to move ahead of Meyer and Tressel into second place behind Hayes on the Buckeye Nation coaching legends list. Meyer and Tressel each own one. (Meyer also claims more two titles from his days coaching at Florida, but that’s a different world ago.)
It would be foolish to suggest that Day is already a better coach than his predecessor, but he has done one thing Meyer never did, which is put together a top-ranked recruiting class. Day’s 2021 class is No. 1 in the 247Sports rankings, which are a composite of major media recruiting services. Meyer’s best class (2013) ranked No. 2.
Recruiting ratings don’t equal national championships, but it also is true that without consistently finishing in the top-10 of recruiting rankings a title is mostly fantasy.
For Day and the Buckeyes, this could be the season it all begins. If the season even begins, that is.