I don’t know that there is a problem with the Ohio State Buckeyes, but I’m also not certain there isn’t one.
And before we start: no, this isn’t an overreaction to losing a game. It’s a reaction to losing THE game, which in their own words, is a failure … and it’s a reaction to the distractions facing college football.
Ohio State keeps its locker room closed to the media, so I can’t say this with a great deal of certainty. But I have a hunch that the changing climate in college football is turning what used to be one of the toughest teams in America under Coach Meyer into one that has more of a country club feel to it.
One of the biggest questions that college football coaches have to ask themselves when recruiting players right now is “does this guy like playing footballor does he like being a football player?” There is a HUGE difference. It’s work ethic vs. perception.
Most of the time, Ohio State gets it right. But I’ve heard that the OSU locker room is much more like an NFL locker room than most college ones. Maybe there are too many guys in there that like being football players – they like the public persona and the special things that come with playing on this stage, but maybe some of them aren’t all-in.
I’m all for student-athletes being able to capitalize on their Name, Image and Likeness. But in a fairly short amount of time, we have raced down a very slippery slope and I wonder if that’s where Ohio State is trending in the wrong direction in the rivalry game.
The Buckeyes are a finesse team. Their are moments they look like a powerful, tough team, but they mostly came against teams that couldn’t match them blow for blow. They’re built to win in the College Football Playoff, with speed and explosiveness. I firmly believe you could drop Ohio State in the SEC and they’d be right there at the top of the league every year.
They have all the flash, all the 5-star talent. Lots of their stars have big NIL deals, the fancy suits and the expensive cars. Life is pretty good. But when it came time to show that they were actually scarred by what happened last November, they crumbled.
Ohio State is a program that is proud of its tradition in putting players into the NFL. It should be! It’s really hard to consistently get kids to the next level. Ryan Day and his staff don’t have a problem in recruiting talent – the recruiting rankings back that up.
But are they getting the toughest kids in addition to the ones that have elite talent? Are they actually engaging in the right recruiting battles all the time?
They aren’t far off. Tommy Eichenberg, Cade Stover, Mike Hall, Steele Chambers, JT Tuimoloau, Miyan Williams, Chip Trayanum … those are guys I want in my corner if I get into a street fight. Every football team in America would clear a scholarship spot to bring them on board.
I’m sure there are others, but it takes more than just a couple dozen dudes to go beat Michigan.
There were two other things this week (one pregame and one postgame) that aren’t sitting well with me.
I had a problem with Ronnie Hickman saying on Tuesday that Saturday’s game would be the last time he plays a game in The ‘Shoe. Addressing that topic coming into rivalry week is out of bounds for me. Even if you’re asked a question in a press conference setting, I would have handled that differently and said I haven’t made up my mind yet. I didn’t ask him that question and frankly don’t want to know that answer at this point.
You can express your gratitude for playing here later. If you’re all about the team and all about winning, you’re not putting out into the world that you’re moving on to the NFL before you’re about to play the biggest game of your life.
I was also a little disappointed in what CJ Stroud said postgame.
I don’t want to pick on him. I like CJ a lot. I think he’s a genuine young man, he’s humble, he keeps his inner circle pretty tight and he works really hard. He’s obviously got enormous talent and everything we hear about him from coaches to teammates to scouts is that he works hard.
But he said something during his postgame press conference Saturday that missed the mark.
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While answering his very first question, Stroud said at the podium after losing to Michigan, “I don’t think one game defines us.”
Yes, he also said how much they wanted this game and how much he poured his heart into it, leaving no stone unturned and how he basically stopped his personal life to try and make it happen.
But when he said this loss wouldn’t define him, I couldn’t believe it. Maybe he just slipped. Maybe this isn’t fair. But does he get it? Does he actually understand this rivalry? It’s the only definition Ohio State fans care about. The only thing. It is literally THE DEFINITION of your season. Beating Michigan is all that matters. That’s a big part of what sets apart this program and this rivalry from some other ones around the nation.
Now, whether or not that’s a healthy amount of pressure or if that’s a healthy perspective is a different conversation. And to his credit, I don’t think Stroud’s performance was why the Buckeyes lost yesterday’s game. But he chose to come play here. He wasn’t born into it, he chose that level of pressure and expectation. Nobody forced him to be a Buckeye. Losing yesterday’s game ABSOLUTELY defines your season.
And while he wouldn’t directly answer a poorly-timed question on if this was his last game in a Buckeye uniform, the way he left the podium by saying thank you, love ya’ll and it’s a blessing to be here (I’ m paraphrasing that a bit) with his family by his side sure felt like he was exiting stage left.
Stroud is the face of the 2022 Buckeyes, the Heisman-candidate who tried to lead them back from a humiliating loss in Ann Arbor last year. But maybe he’s also the face of an era of Ohio State football players who come to Columbus with the intention of developing into an NFL player and not those who want to be a part of the biggest rivalry in sports.
So where do we go from here?
I don’t know what the coaching staff has to change in recruiting to start better filtering which guys are cut from the right cloth and which ones aren’t. But it sure is a tough job. The photoshoots, the social media circus, the NIL money and pressure from outside forces to treat college football like it’s a professional sport is not healthy for its long-term success. It’s part of what’s driving some coaches away from the game, because it’s harder than ever to get it right.
Ryan Day and his staff certainly understand what’s in front of them. They may not say it publicly, but this is undoubtedly the hardest part of their jobs. I like Day an awful lot and I think he’s the right guy to lead the Buckeyes. I don’t think he is “on the hot seat” and if I’m Gene Smith, I’m not applying any additional pressure on him. He gets it. But they’ve got another long year in front of them, one which starts by making sure they nail the upcoming class on national signing day – regardless of whatever praise national recruiting rankings send their way.
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