Things seemed bleak for the Buckeyes at this point last week. That’s all changed.
Despite closing the regular season with a loss to Michigan that cost Ohio State a chance to win the Big Ten title, it still earned a College Football Playoff spot Sunday, renewing the Buckeyes’ hopes of winning the national championship. It won’t be an easy path, given Ohio State must face the defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Georgia in a CFP semifinal matchup at the end of the month, but all Ryan Day and company wanted was a chance.
Now they have it.
“Life is all about opportunity, and what an unbelievable opportunity this is. Going down to Atlanta, playing the national champs,” Day said on ESPN. “Kirby's done an unbelievable job again this year. But this is all gonna be about taking advantage of this opportunity, who works harder over the next month. The coaches, the players, just maximizing every day, practicing really well and preparing to play in this game. Because now we're back in control of our destiny. We weren't, and that was the hardest thing going into this past weekend. But now we're back in control of our destiny.”
Day didn’t deny that the Buckeyes were down on their luck following a second straight rivalry loss on Nov. 26. But when USC lost to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday, an opportunity opened for Ohio State to sneak into the CFP after all. The possibility became absolute when the Buckeyes were announced as the No. 4 team in the country by the CFP selection committee.
“Hard to explain the range of emotions that have gone on here over the last seven days. But we saw our name up there on the board and know that we're gonna have an opportunity to play. I said it before, it's like a second lease on life,” Day said. “A couple days ago we were on life support a little bit, our season was. And now there's there's a two-game season ahead of us. And so there's unbelievable excitement right now, guys, were just bouncing around the facility. We had a team meeting right before that, and there's a lot of excitement right now.”
But even before officially finding out their fate, Day said the Buckeyes began shifting their focus from the Michigan loss to a potential CFP matchup in practice over the past week.
"Our season was on life support, now there's life back into us. And there's a new perspective going into this preparation.”– Ryan Day
“We still have a month of work. But I can tell you coming off of The Game, it was the big plays. There was just a lot of good football that was played in that game, but when you give up big plays like that, it doesn't matter,” Day said. “And so there was a lot of work done in terms of the film room identifying the issues that were going on during the week. But one thing that we talked about was we spent last week focusing on the opportunity to play in the CFP. And if this opportunity was here, don't be surprised on Sunday afternoon if your name's up on that board. And so we did that. And we went in, we had two really good days of practice and then got after the film.”
Despite missing out on the CFP last year, the Ohio State program still carries with it more playoff experience than any other team in this year’s field. Ohio State notched its fifth playoff berth on Sunday, breaking a tie with Oklahoma for the third-most in college football, and Day will make his third playoff appearance as head coach of the Buckeyes.
Day thinks that experience can aid Ohio State, even if it’s taking on the reigning national champs on Dec. 31.
“This is our third trip to the CFP in the last four years. And so there's still a group of guys in that locker room that know what this is like,” Day said. “And I think we have a really good formula for preparing for the game. We have three different phases that we get into; fundamentals, game plan and then at the bowl site itself. But I just think it's gonna be how well do we maximize every single day and just attack over the next month? Because you come out of a game like we did at the end of the season and there's some regret that we don't win the game. Well, now the goal is to have no regret going into this game. Playing loose, playing fast, playing aggressive, having a great month of preparation so we play with great confidence.”
Just eight days after Day’s lowest moment as Ohio State head coach, his program has new life in the postseason, and perhaps even a rematch with Michigan awaits if the Buckeyes can knock off the No. 1 team in the nation.
“I think our guys after kind of having things taken away over the last week and feeling like our season was on life support, now there's life back into us,” Day said. “And there's a new perspective going into this preparation.”