You can call Ryan Day’s Ohio State football team a lot of things.
Just don’t call the Buckeyes talented.
“When I hear people say they’re just talented, they’re not just talented,” the coach of the Buckeyes said this week. “This is a team with great leaders, great toughness, great chemistry. The way they’re playing disciplined football, there’s so much that goes into that. They’ve worked really hard to have this opportunity. I think they deserve the credit.”
It turns out this point of view stems from a lasting case of the goo Day has from seeing Michigan be a more popular pick to win the Big Ten than Ohio State.
Sure, the Buckeyes had their share of preseason fans, but not as many as the Wolverines, who returned their starting quarterback and generated a lot of buzz by installing a new offense.
There is no official preseason Big Ten football poll anymore, but 20 of 34 voters in the cleveland.com survey that has taken its place tabbed Michigan as the Big Ten East winners while the other 14 landed on Ohio State.
That caused some consternation among fans of the Scarlet and Gray in July and August, but the two-time defending champions did enter the season with plenty of questions.
Those included quarterback, offensive line, linebacker and defensive back. The whole defensive staff was overhauled in the offseason, too, and then of course there is Day.
How would a first-year coach replace a legend like Urban Meyer, who won an almost-unheard of 83 of 91 games and a national championship at Ohio State?
Then the games started.
The Buckeyes not only won, they won big.
Twelve games and 12 double-digit wins, topped off by a 56-27 win at Michigan on Saturday that put the finishing touches on an undefeated regular season and has Ohio State on the precipice of another Big Ten title and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
“I think the only thing that catches me sometimes is that early in the preseason, coming into the season, they didn’t think much of us,” Day said. “Then we do what we’re doing now, a lot of people don’t give these kids enough credit in my opinion.
“A lot of people say they’re very talented. If they’re that talented, why didn’t you pick us that way early in the season? These guys deserve in my opinion a lot of credit for what they’ve done this season. Retooled the whole defense, retooled an offensive line, had a quarterback who never had a college start walking into the season. Right now we’re undefeated going to play for the whole thing. I think these kids deserve that.”
Of course, talent is the name of the game in college football.
No one wins without it, and most of the time games aren’t being played, coaches are obsessing over how to get more in recruiting.
While Day deflected a question about whether or not he had proven himself as a coach up to this point, center Josh Myers was effusive in his praise for the man who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
“We all absolutely love coach Day,” Myers said. “I think if you ask pretty much anybody on our team, we would say that we want to win for him really bad.
“I personally want to win for him. Like we all just love him so much and we want to win for him and we want to for ourselves as well and for our teammates, but you know I think he’s just done such a great job.”
Meanwhile, Day preferred to keep the focus on the players and his assistants.
“They’re the ones who do it all — it’s all about the players,” Day said a few hours before being named Big Ten Coach of the Year. “I do think our coaching staff has done a good job on defense putting in the new system, new pieces to this thing. I think the offensive staff has done a good job adapting to a new group, taking on a new identity. I think Matt Barnes has done an excellent job on special teams.
“Most importantly it’s the leaders. Any great team I’ve been on, it’s player-driven. Whether it’s the seniors or guys who have been in the program for three and four years, their approach and maturity day in and day out has been the difference.”
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