NEW ORLEANS — The Ohio State story is far bigger than just Chris Olave.
But there probably isn’t anybody on the Buckeyes roster who sums it up any better than the junior wide receiver.
Olave was tortured more than most by what happened in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago. Figuring out the next step in his career became a complicated mess when the season was initially cancelled in August while he was facing a looming NFL Draft decision. And then with a championship on the line in the Big Ten title game, Olave was forced to stay home after testing positive for COVID and unable to do anything to potentially get a shot to exorcise the demons against Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
Maybe that’s an oversimplification, and obviously there have been dozens of other difficult journeys at Ohio State along the way this year. But Olave checks just about every beat in a fairytale script about overcoming adversity — and now he looks to be ready to go chase the happy ending.
“This isn’t about recovery, revenge or even redemption,” Olave said while narrating the Ohio State trailer for the Sugar Bowl. “It’s about rewriting the story.”
Beyond that comeback narrative is also a damn-good wideout, and Olave’s importance and impact for the Buckeyes simply can’t be denied after seeing what the passing attack looked like without him two weeks ago.
Since the moment he burst on the scene as a clutch performer with big-time plays in The Game as a freshman, Olave has solidified himself as perhaps the most reliable, consistent, explosive weapon on the roster. That’s what made the misstep in the Fiesta Bowl that led to the game-sealing interception in the loss to Clemson so shocking, and it’s also why it provided him so much fuel in the offseason to make up for it.
Olave was certainly doing everything he possibly could to elevate the Buckeyes heading into the Big Ten championship, racking up 36 catches for 528 yards and 5 touchdowns in just five games so far this year. And without him, the play-calling, passing-attack chemistry and rhythm of the offense all seemed to suffer.
“I just missed Chris Olave being out on the field,” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. “He is a great leader for the receivers, and of course he’s a great player. I think having him back will make our offense better as a whole. I think me and him have a great chemistry on the field.
“Just having him back out there on the field will definitely help our offense a lot.”
The Buckeyes haven’t officially confirmed that Olave will be there on Friday night in the Superdome, but that’s clearly the expectation based on his return to practice and his role in hyping up the rematch with the Tigers.
The situation is obviously not ideal with Olave having only played two games in the last five weeks. But once again, that’s just part of this unusual story.
“One of the challenges for the last month has been the amount of guys that have been in and out for whatever reason, whether it’s been for the virus or guys just being out because of injuries,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “The numbers are off the charts. So that has been a major challenge, is trying to prepare for games but having guys come in and out of stuff.
“We have a bunch of guys back. Guys are starting to practice now. It will be good to get some of these guys back to play on Friday night.”
Chris Olave has been waiting a full year for this shot with the Buckeyes.
He’s not alone, but Olave absolutely figures to be in the spotlight.