Ohio State football accomplished much in 2019 — and almost much more.
The Buckeyes were close to having a national championship season and a Heisman Trophy winner but settled for third place in both races (as well as fourth in the latter).
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In an ironic twist, one of their own ended up claiming both trophies when all was said and done.
Joe Burrow may always be a Buckeye — he’s got the degree to prove it — but his stiff-arm statue and national title are both going back to Louisiana, where he finished his career as the starting quarterback for LSU after not winning a battle to be the starting quarterback at Ohio State two springs ago.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who collaborated with then-head coach Urban Meyer in the QB decision between Burrow and Dwaynes Haskins in April 2018, was in the room in December when Burrow was announced as the Heisman winner.
Burrow shook hands with Day and Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti on his way to the stage to accept the award and thanked them afterward.
“Really cool moment to be there at the Heisman and be there with his family and just see him win that job and overcome so many different things,” said Day, who made the trip to New York to be with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young.
Fields finished third in Heisman balloting while Young was fourth.
Day arrived in Columbus as quarterbacks coach in January 2017, joining a room that included a sophomore Burrow and freshman Haskins as well as senior J.T. Barrett.
Barrett graduated the following year as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes, and Burrow transferred. After starring for one season, Haskins went pro early, prompting Day to recruit Fields as a transfer from Georgia last year.
“You try to make the best decisions you can at the time, and when you think about Joe Burrow, Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields, wow, what a problem to have,” Day said. “And they've all done really well. One is in the NFL, one is a Heisman Trophy winner and one is a Heisman Trophy finalist really in the first year of playing college football.
“Again, nothing but the utmost respect for Joe and happy the way things played out. It's hard to see somebody who leaves the program, graduates and everything, go on to do something like that. But I think everybody understands you have to make tough decisions. And we're obviously happy with the decisions we made. But at the same time it's great to see Joe go on and play so well.”
The competitor in Day probably had a harder time watching Burrow’s team win the national championship than seeing a respected former pupil win an individual award.
Day admitted watching LSU play Clemson for it all Monday night after Clemson ended Ohio State’s season in the Fiesta Bowl was difficult.
“I told the team and the coaches that I wanted everybody to watch that game, as hard as it was going to be, from beginning to end and then think about the things — how bad do they want to get back into that game next year, or back into that situation and get to that game,” Day said. “And then what are they willing to do and sacrifice to get back there. That's what I was thinking when I was watching that game.”
However, he insisted there was no feeling of what might have been.
“It would have been fun to play them,” Day said of LSU, a 42-25 winner over the other Tigers. “I don't know. That's why you play the game. Certainly wished we had the opportunity to play them.”
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Moving on without forgetting — doing something with the memory other than dwelling on it — might be difficult, but that is the goal.
“Especially when the game was played Monday night and just right there front and center — it's hard to let go,” Day said. "I'm just telling you, it's hard. And we're not going to let go.
“I think you do have to move on with your life, but at the same time we told to the team we're not just going to flush this. This is going to be here for a long time. And it's the way it should be. We felt like we had a chance to go win the whole thing. We didn't do it. So it's going to stay fresh in our minds.”
Spring football is still more than a month away, but already 2020 preseason picks are proliferating on the internet.
Ohio State figures to be among the favorites to return to the College Football Playoff thanks to the return of Fields, most of the offensive line and a roster that has been stocked by multiple top 10 recruiting classes.
High expectations are fine with Day, who groused at times last preseason about his team not getting more attention, but he stressed getting back to the level the Buckeyes played at most of last season will be a big challenge.
“When you come off of something like this it's easy to say, let's just get back to that, but there’s so many things that need to be done to even start with that first game against Bowling Green next year,” Day said. “And we've got to go to Oregon, and that's going to be a long trip.
“You have to rebuild this thing again and you start with one game at a time. And, again, the easy thing right now is to think about how do we get back to the semifinals. But so many things have to go well to get to that point. And that's why I want to make sure our guys understand that a lot of things did go well, and we did play really well to get to that point. And that isn't just going to happen. We have to make sure we take it one game at a time and build.”
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