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Fresh from break after tiring 2020 season, Ryan Day looks ahead to 2021

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
After a few days off in Florida and his native New Hampshire to recharge, coach Ryan Day got right back to work preparing Ohio State for what he hopes will be a more normal 2021 college football season.

After a long, draining 2020 season, Ryan Day took a few days off after Ohio State’s College Football Playoff championship game loss to Alabama last Monday.

The Buckeyes coach and his family stayed in Florida for a few days, then flew to their native New Hampshire before returning to Columbus.

“It was good,” Day said in a conference call with reporters Friday morning. “We needed to recharge a little bit. A little bit Florida, a little bit New Hampshire and then went right back to work.”

There is much to savor from the 2020 season for Day and much that will motivate him and his team. In 2019, the CFP semifinal loss to Clemson stung so much because the Buckeyes believed they were the better team. The 52-24 loss to Alabama hurts because it showed the gap that still remains between the Crimson Tide and Ohio State.

Day didn’t deny that, but he believes the Buckeyes’ growth and the mettle they showed during the season can help bridge that.

“I think the gap is a lot closer now than if we had not played the season,” Day said. “If Alabama had gone through this bowl season, and we had not played this season, the gap would be really hard to catch. I don't think it's that far off.

“But that night they were the better team, and they beat us soundly. There's a lot of areas and a lot of things that led to that, that we've got to get addressed and get fixed to get to that point.”

The most pressing matter for Day is replacing defensive co-coordinator Greg Mattison, whose retirement Day announced on Friday.

While Day handles that, he wants his team to continue its break. The early-enrollee freshmen arrive this weekend and will quarantine for a week. The offseason conditioning program under Mickey Marotti begins Feb. 1. Day said a spring practice schedule has not been finalized.

The Buckeyes got generally good news on the NFL departure front. They lost quarterback Justin Fields, cornerback Shaun Wade, offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis, and defensive lineman Tommy Togiai, but all except Togiai were considered near-locks to leave. Wide receiver Chris Olave, tight end Jeremy Ruckert, left tackle Thayer Munford and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett were among those deciding to stay.

“I think it's unbelievable,” Day said. “I think it speaks not only to our leadership, but … our culture and the environment here. For those guys who decided to come back, what a great opportunity for them. It just goes to show their maturity.

“Not only do they love their teammates. They love Ohio State. They still have unfinished business here at Ohio State. They want to maximize themselves as players here in college, but then also in the NFL. A lot of them understood it's one thing to be able to play in the NFL. It's another thing to be ready when you get there.”

While Fields is off to the NFL, the battle to replace him is just beginning. Neither C.J. Stroud nor Jack Miller threw a pass during their freshmen seasons in 2020. They will compete with incoming freshman Kyle McCord.

Day said there’s no pecking order and that he’ll create as many game-like conditions as much as possible for them during spring practice in hopes one separates himself.

Though COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and will affect preparation for 2021, the hope is that this season will be far more normal than the last one. From start to finish, the Buckeyes had to overcome obstacles and absences. Day said that the Buckeyes managed to have only one practice for the Alabama game in full pads.

On a more level playing field this year, Day believes his team can take that last, big step next year.

“Take nothing away from Alabama,” he said.  “They're a good team. But it's more about us. And with a great offseason, a great spring ball, a great preseason, a 12-game regular season, and then a postseason leading into that game, I feel great (about our chances), and I think that's always going to be our goal.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch