Two years in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes have been on the outside looking in when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Two years in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes have only had themselves to blame for this situation.
New head coach Ryan Day inherits a talented team from legendary predecessor Urban Meyer, and the expectations by Ohio State fans are still as demanding as ever. Day will be expected to have the Buckeyes in the national title conversation, and fans throughout college football will curiously observe how Day is handling the pressures of the job as a first-time head coach.
We examine the reasons both for and against the Buckeyes returning to the College Football Playoff in 2019:
Three Reasons Why Ohio State Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Ryan Day has demonstrated offensive flexibility & creativity
In 2017, Day was able to join Urban Meyer's staff and bring out the best in then-quarterback J.T. Barrett. Meyer was notorious for emphasizing specific offensive aspects, such as the quarterback run, and Day not only ran Meyer's plays, but helped Barrett achieve the highest completion percentage of his career (64.7 percent), yardage (3053 passing alone), and touchdowns (35). In 2018, Day had a quarterback in Dwayne Haskins who had a completely different skill set, and Haskins put up the greatest statistical year in Ohio State football history.
Transfer quarterback Justin Fields is the prohibitive favorite to win the starting job, and was considered the top dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school in 2017. Even though Day is the head coach, he has stated that he will be calling plays for the Buckeyes in 2019. Considering how effective Day has been in that role already, this should only increase Fields' chances of succeeding.
2. Talent on hand
From 2015 through '19, here are the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings for Ohio State — 7th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 14th. Even with the lower ranking for the most recent class, which is somewhat due to it being a smaller group (17 signees), the average star ranking of the players ranked third, behind only Alabama and Georgia.
The conventional wisdom within college football is that it is impossible to contend for the national championship without an abundance of talent. That's the least of Day's worries as he embarks on his first full season as a head coach.
3. A challenging schedule
If Day has the Buckeyes in College Football Playoff conversation, it will only help his chances of becoming the first Ohio State head coach to be named Big Ten Coach of the Year since Earle Bruce in 1979. The Buckeyes' schedule is full of difficult challenges so simply winning a conference championship in his first year would be a noteworthy accomplishment. But a Big Ten title would no doubt put Ohio State in good standing with the playoff selection committee and increase the Buckeyes' chances of securing a spot in the four-team tournament that will help determine the national champion.
Three Reasons Why Ohio State Won't Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Defense does not improve
Longtime Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is the only holdover from Meyer's staff to Day's staff. Greg Mattison, Jeff Hafley, Al Washington, and Matt Barnes were all hired to rejuvenate an Ohio State defense that gave up more than 400 yards per game last season.
The talent is there with players such as defensive end Chase Young, cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, and linebacker Malik Harrison projected as future NFL draft selections. The question will be if the new defensive coaching staff will be able to improve a defense that has played below Ohio State's standards for the past two seasons.
2. Offensive line fails to gel
The Ohio State offensive line was not overly impressive in 2018. Throw in the loss of starters such as Michael Jordan, Malcolm Pridgeon, Demetrius Knox, and Isaiah Prince, and Day and line coach are Greg Studrawa are essentially going back to square one up front.
The Buckeyes have talent on the roster to fill all of the spots. Thayer Munford returns at left tackle, and heralded graduate transfer Jonah Jackson (Rutgers) is widely expected to claim the left guard spot. Josh Myers is slated to take over at center, with Wyatt Davis at right guard. Right tackle is expected to be a battle throughout fall camp. If this group fails to develop cohesiveness and chemistry during fall camp, it could prevent the offense from realizing its true potential.
3. A challenging schedule
How can this be both a positive and a negative for Ohio State in 2019? Look at this schedule, and you will understand why this could be what prevents the Buckeyes from getting back to the playoff. Starting Sept. 28, Ohio State has to navigate one of the toughest four-game stretches any team will face this season. This gauntlet starts on the road against Nebraska, followed by a home game against Michigan State, a Friday night road date with defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern, and concludes with a visit from Wisconsin. There is a bye between the clashes with the Spartans and Wildcats, but that does little to mitigate the degree of difficulty.
Remember, the Buckeyes lost to Purdue on the road last season and that was the game that left them on the outside looking in at the playoff even after winning the Big Ten title. So while huge showdowns against Penn State and Michigan are on tap for late November, Ohio State has to successfully navigate this four-game stretch if the Buckeyes want to have any shot at getting into the playoff.
The Buckeyes have the talent to be considered among the nation's elite teams. Even with a first-year head coach, Ohio State will be able to get through their arduous schedule and be among the teams invited for the College Football Playoff. If there are going to be any stumbles, look for them during that tough stretch in October on the road. By the end of the season, Ryan Day will have OSU in line for a third straight trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game, which should result in Ohio State as a playoff participant for the first time since the 2016 season.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 5
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-1 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 10