Three Days in November

By Ramzy Nasrallah on February 7, 2024 at 1:15 pm
2018-Ohio State 62, Michigan 39 Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Parris Campbell Jr. (21) scores on a rushing touchdown as Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh points to the sideline thinking he stepped out in the 4th quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 24, 2018.
© Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Five years is an eternity in college football.

Roughly 99% of the players matriculate out of eligibility in a half-decade during pandemic-free eras. It's new guys all the way down every five years - a full turnover.

Five years is forever in gladiator entertainment circles - ESPN had a dedicated segment celebrating big football hits called Jacked Up! and five years later 99% of those adulated plays were being flagged for targeting.

Did I say five years? It only took two years for the NFL to go from Jacked Up! to Personal Foul! Five years later, college football was ejecting players. Five years is an e t e r n i t y.

Five years ago brought the dawn of the Ryan Day era in Columbus. His first team beat Michigan in Ann Arbor that season. This happened so long ago that *redundant descriptor alert* cognitively dissonant Michigan fans have no memory of this ever happening.

Speaking of lapses, this was the Ohio State-Michigan spread not even five years ago.

The Buckeyes had won by 29 a year earlier. One of those two programs was in College Football Playoff that season. The other one hasn't missed it since. Five years is an eternity.

The B1G Offensive Player of the Year has come from Ohio State since Day's business card only had two titles on it, co-Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach. Since that 30-point spread, his offense has also produced a Heisman finalist each season while the team has accumulated double-digit wins every year.

They beat Michigan by 29 points in 2019. Haven't scored 29 against them since. An eternity.

But all those other distinctions - the conference's best offensive player, a guy who gets to visit Manhattan in December (or as was the case in 2019, guys) along with double-digit wins have been taken for granted for at least five years - which is to say Ohio State fans have expected this level of performance for an eternity.

In my most arrogant tone: This is what normal looks like Columbus.

As we all know, nothing has felt normal since Ohio State was favored to beat Michigan by 30 five years ago. The Wolverines dodged the opportunity (Jim Harbaugh admitted it; this was never a conspiracy) and they've had the Buckeyes in a headlock ever since.

Pandemic protocols ended, along with a couple of pre-Covid regularities - namely, Ohio State finishing football seasons with Gold Pants and Indianapolis roadies. Those two things stopped happening. Everything else not gated by those traditions was unaffected.

It was not one thing that happened. Michigan cheated is true, convenient and far too simplistic of an excuse. Ohio State's defense was fecal for three seasons, including the one where the Buckeyes were still favored by 30 points.

Luke Farrell ran out of eligibility after 2020, and his alma mater has not produced a single tight end whose blocking could grade out higher than a D-minus. If not for Parker Fleming's special teams reverse-wizardry, it would be the weakest unit in the program over the past five years. That's an eternity of broken seals on well-conceived plays.

Keenan Bailey, who graduated into unit management from his reputable work inside Brian Hartline's wide receiver room now looks after the guys expected to both act like extra tackles and pass-catchers. The way back to Farrell-level competency feels optimistic, but good vibes do nothing to correct the past three seasons of turnstiles guarding the edges, blowing up everything from Inside Zone to Bubble Screens.

Day's 2017 business card - which also included J.T. Barrett Legacy Rehabilitation Specialist - has since added Head Coach and Lead Recruiter to it. The only job he no longer has involves Barrett. The workload is unsustainable. He's finally accepted that, but even his best intentions are still up in the air.

The last sentence is like being impaled by a goal post. Connor Stalions is blameless there.

Day's run of prolific quarterbacks took a one-season - fingers crossed - sabbatical last season. This was compounded by the shakiest offensive line since 2016. Maybe Kyle McCord isn't making disqualifying throws every single Saturday with serviceable protection in front of him.

We'll never know, and that mystery does nothing to untangle the five-year lapse between Gold Pants issuing parties. Cheating. A glitch in the QB parade. One guy holding too many jobs down. Stinky defensive coaching and recruiting. You would love to see all of that corrected.

But here's One Weird Thing about those flaws which have taken three days in November and turned the past five years into an eternity for Ohio State football enthusiasts: Pick one. Just fix one of those things. Two would be extra credit.

The way the football program has attacked the offseason - not even one-month old, by the way - it sure feels like they're trying to fix everything. That's about as close to impossible as it gets in college football. The Buckeyes do not need to repair everything to beat Michigan this season or in any other.

It's felt mostly terrible since Day's first squad squandered that 2019 CFP semifinal. That was three Heisman finalists ago. Three B1G Offensive Players of the Year ago. The double-digit winning seasons took one year off in 2020, but that was mostly Kevin Warren's fault.

It's those three November Saturdays which have poisoned an otherwise enviable era and produced the most aggressive, ambitious and relentless offseason month in program history. They've been playing organized college football in Columbus since 1890. That's roughly 27 eternities.

Ohio State beat Michigan for two decades, which spans four eternities. That run was long enough to shift the Buckeyes' priority to the postseason, as winning November and December jewelry felt more like entitlement than an objective. In the meantime, Michigan left those eternities behind. And here we are.

This is the most important offseason in quite some time, and one month in it could not be trending more favorably. The Buckeyes don't need to be a perfect football team in eight months. They don't have to fix every single thing to take back November.

But good for them for trying. The former king of the conference hasn't reigned in an eternity.

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