MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Josh Myers seemed to have a pretty good idea what his future held when Ohio State held its offensive media day last week.
“You guys will know the answer on [Jan. 12],” Myers said when asked about his potential, but unlikely, return.
One can’t help but wonder if the good old-fashioned butt-kicking the Buckeyes received from Alabama on Monday night can change his mind.
The title game beatdown that the Crimson Tide put on Ohio State was more than a year in the making. It started last offseason when Nick Saban saw a handful of stars, including DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Dylan Moses and Alex Leatherwood, decide against the NFL and to return to Alabama. Clemson, even though the Buckeyes bested them on New Year’s Day, was able to bring back Travis Etienne for his senior year.
A year ago, Ohio State lost Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and J.K. Dobbins, each of whom left early for professional football.
Those three guys may have helped quite a bit on Monday night.
Ohio State recruits the top players in the country on the premise of an NFL future. But it also recruits the top players in the country with the promise of a brotherhood and culture that is unlike anywhere else. That is obvious when it comes to players like Tuf Borland, Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard and others, but the truly high-end NFL prospects that have come through the Buckeyes program have never seemed reluctant to depart as quickly as possible.
And that’s not meant to be an indictment of any kind. It’s just what the Buckeyes have dealt with for years. But for them to take the next step, to truly cement their place at the top of college football with the Crimson Tide or Clemson, they need more guys ready and willing to put off their NFL riches for the brotherhood that they hold so dear.
Outside of Justin Fields and Wyatt Davis, there’s no surefire first-round NFL Draft picks on this current Buckeyes roster. Davis has been on campus for four years, so his return for a fifth season is nothing but wishful thinking. Fields is a true junior and has seen his NFL stock ebb and flow over the last year, but Ryan Day acknowledged following Monday’s game that his Ohio State career was over.
“Justin has been unbelievable — he’s as competitively tough a player as I’ve been around,” Day said. “He’s an unbelievable player, and I’m going to miss him.”
Fields is going to be a top-10 pick in the next NFL Draft, and no one blames him for getting his professional career started as quickly as possible. But after a year-long obsession with Clemson because of the way the 2019 season concluded, how does anyone who can return for Ohio State walk away without real doubts after Monday’s dismantling? Even Shaun Wade, who surprised many by returning this fall, seemed reluctant about leaving now.
“I really can’t say, You know, I do want to come back and everything,” Wade said after the Buckeyes gave up 464 passing yards to Mac Jones and Alabama. “I’ve got to talk to my parents. It is upsetting that we got here and we just didn’t accomplish the goal. That’s just been my goal, winning a national championship and just winning big games like this. I’ll just go back with my parents, go talk to them and just go from there.”
Again, maybe it’s wishful thinking or just Wade wallowing in the emotional letdown of the beatdown, but losing stings. Losing teaches way more lessons and reveals way more about deficiencies than winning does. Losing is what motivates a football team for a full year. Losing is what brought back Wade, Wyatt Davis and others for this screwed-up season.
Maybe another humbling defeat could do it again?
“Everyone is going to make their decisions that are best for them and their careers,” draft-eligible right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said. “If you really want to know what it takes to bring guys back, look at what we did this year when we had COVID cancel our season. We had a lot of things happening with a lot of people not being able to play, not knowing if we’re going to play.
“And while guys [left,] once they heard we were playing ball again, everyone came back like it was nothing. That’s what we are. This is a brotherhood, and we are always going to support our brothers no matter what decision they make. We had a lot of guys that came back after our season got canceled and they just wanted to be a part of brotherhood and play their hardest. That’s what we try to do all season long in this game.”
In the last week, Georgia has had six big-time players announce their intentions to head back to college next year, including quarterback J.T. Daniels. Those players each cited a desire to take care of unfinished business as the driving factor in their choices.
Ohio State has a lot of unfinished business. If Ryan Day and his Buckeyes want to have a real chance to win a national championship next season the way Alabama did this one, it’s going to be hard to do without some real good players putting off their personal futures for the team’s.
Haskell Garrett, Tommy Togiai, Tyreke Smith, Sevyn Banks and Petit-Frere — and maybe a surprise like Shaun Wade or Chris Olave — returning to get the bad taste of Monday night out of their mouth is going to show whether or not brotherhood is more than just a buzzword.