COLUMBUS — The time for Ohio State to start proving itself has arrived.
Ryan Day is making sure the Buckeyes don’t forget what’s at stake.
There’s probably not much chance that a team that still has the sour taste in its mouth from last year’s College Football Playoff loss would need a reminder about what it’s chasing or the importance of winning every game in this most unusual of seasons. And considering how long the layoff has been since the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes aren’t likely to need much extra motivation now that they finally get a chance to play on Saturday against Nebraska in the Horseshoe.
But clearly Day isn’t going to hold anything back when it comes to creating urgency ahead of the opener for the three-time defending Big Ten champions, even taking his message public on Tuesday before practice.
“This is Practice No. 39, if you can believe it,” Day said. “We’ve had 39 practices, now there’s only been a very small percentage of those with pads on, but it’s no longer just practice. We’re playing in a game, so the urgency really has to show up. I told them: ‘You’re either going to look like a champ or look like a chump based on your preparation.’
“Now is the time, and it’s not like you can just go get it the next rep. That’s what happens when you practice so much and there are no real consequences for a mistake. Well, now there will be. We’ll get a better idea what kind of team we have on Saturday.”
There’s no question that the Buckeyes again boast one of the most talented rosters in the country. But the first true test of how that will translate back to the game field is finally coming against a Nebraska program that is intent on showing progress in its rebuild and won’t hold anything back in its upset bid as a nearly four-touchdown underdog.
Naturally, Ohio State’s return to competition will prompt comparisons about how it stacks up with fellow College Football Playoff contenders like Clemson and Alabama, which have both in action for several weeks already. But Day’s championship challenge to the Buckeyes doesn’t actually have anything to do with the national landscape.
“The thing I talked about with the team about two and a half weeks ago is that there’s no conversation about any kind of national championship — it’s all about beating Nebraska,” Day said. “If we start focusing on things like that or start talking about things like that to compare ourselves to other teams, all that’s going to do is just distract us from playing the game on Saturday.
“We’ve got a good opponent coming in here, and if we don’t take care of business on Saturday, none of that is really going to matter.”
Everything obviously starts counting for the Buckeyes this weekend. And Ryan Day won’t be shying about drilling home that point until then.