Ohio State entered the 2021 season with their sights set on their 5th straight Big Ten title and making a second trip to Indianapolis for the National Championship game. Fast forward a few months, and the Buckeyes saw themselves coming off their first loss to their arch-rival Michigan since 2011, not winning a Big Ten title, and heading to Pasadena instead and finishing 11-2 following a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. As Ryan Day said at Big Ten Media Days last week, "Some places, going 11-2 and winning the Rose Bowl is a great year. At Ohio State, it's not."
Day is right. The standard at Ohio State has grown since Jim Tressel took over in 2001. Any season with a loss to "That Team Up North" is an automatic failed year. 11-2 is considered a down year, especially with that loss and the Buckeyes first ever loss to Oregon attached to it. Add the fact they failed to win the Big Ten and no playoff trip and you have yourself the worst season for the Buckeyes since 2016.
On the brink of starting fall camp this coming week, the Buckeyes are coming off a roller coaster month. The Buckeye ended the month of June on a high snagging WRs Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss, and Noah Rodgers in back-to-back-back days. Brandon Inniss even took to twitter to say July would be a great month for the Buckeyes.
While the Buckeyes did land guys like DE Jason Moore, TE Jelani Thurman, and 3 other recruits, July also saw the Buckeyes have CB Dijon Johnson decommit and lost out on guys like S Caleb Downs, DL John Walker, and other big recruits. In fact, the Buckeyes landed none of the recruits they had on campus from a huge June 24th recruiting visit by multiple big-name recruits, even ones they had led on for months like Walker and Curtis.
Now the Buckeyes are a little over a month away from their big showdown against Notre Dame in the Shoe and Buckeye Nation has growing concerns on the future of the program. Is the sky falling? No. But is there reason for some concern? Absolutely.
There's plenty of reason for worry, and the Buckeyes have no one to blame but themselves for their recruiting misses. Allowing a bad defensive product to be on the field the last two seasons and 4 of the last 5 seasons would make any defensive recruit second guess committing to your school, even if you're Ohio State. There have been a lot of questions about the program's toughness and direction following last year as well. Many (mainly Wolverine fans) have ran with the "Born on third" statement Jim Harbaugh made after beating the Buckeyes 42-27 last November and questioned if Ryan Day runs a soft program and can't win without "Urban's recruits." Some key things have to be done this year in order to change the perception of Ryan Day's program.
So, what does this all mean for Ohio State? It means 2022 is a pivotal year for the future of the program.
I've seen people laugh at the notion that 2022 is a "Make-or-Break" year for Ryan Day. I tend to agree that it is, and I'll tell you why. Imagine this (very plausible) scenario: Ryan Day loses the game against Michigan for the second year in a row, fails to win the Big Ten let alone make it to Indy, and doesn't make the CFP again. The last time an Ohio State coach lost back-to-back games to the Wolverines was 1999 & 2000 when John Cooper ended his tenure with the Buckeyes doing what he did best, losing The Game and failing in bowl season. Ohio State has learned its lesson from the past and losing a second straight year to the Wolverines would almost surely put Ryan Day firmly on the hot seat for 2023 regardless of the final results of 2022.
Now if that all happens with the Buckeyes again having an awful defense, you can almost guarantee riots will be happening in Columbus. So, make no mistake folks, 2022 is a crucial year for the Ohio State program and especially for Ryan Day.
The expectations for this 2022 squad are simple: have a defense better than 59th in the country, beat the Wolverines, win the Big Ten, and at minimum make the playoffs, but of course winning the natty being the ultimate goal. If even one of these things doesn't happen, things could get ugly in Columbus.
The defensive improvement along would do wonders for the team this season and beyond. With an improved defensive product on the field comes big defensive recruits committing and staying more so than the past few years. That, in turn, will help the Buckeyes beat Michigan annually once again, win Big Ten titles for years to come, and make trips to the playoffs and, hopefully, capture a title somewhere in there.
With a schedule like the Buckeyes have this coming season, they will have to improve in areas of weakness quickly to earn everything they failed to get last season. Accomplish all of the goals and expectations and the trajectory of the program skyrockets upward. Fail to even beat Michigan again, the rest of the goals won't be obtainable, and the sky will legitimately start to fall in Ohio, leading to the fanbase beginning to seriously question whether Ryan Day is the future or not.
Day knows what is expected, he's made the necessary staff changes, and now we are a week away from the journey to redemption beginning with fall camp. How he responds to last year's failure and how hard he and this staff work to right the wrongs of 2021 will dictate the program's future. He was right in saying 11-2 with a Rose Bowl win isn't enough at Ohio State. I, for one, fully believe Day will prove that, not only will he steal home plate from said "third base" he was "born on", but show other coaches, one in particular, struck out looking by doubting him. All that's left is for him to answer the bell and prove last year was nothing but an anomaly.