The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and Ryan Day keeping pace with Alabama and Clemson? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
After the 2014 season, I was convinced that college football was essentially a two horse race between ALA and OSU. However, it’s Clemson that has ascended and has kept OSU out of the discussion. What in your assessment has been the secret sauce for Clemson?
— Blue 42 SM (@Blue42_SM) May 6, 2019
The true powerhouse programs all share plenty in common, and in some cases teams like Ohio State and Clemson have even shared or copied ideas with each other. Why wouldn’t everybody just hire crack social-media departments, expand the recruiting staffs, develop post-football education classes like Real Life Wednesdays or anything else that has helped set the top contenders apart?
For starters, it takes an enormous financial commitment that not every school can match. It also still helps tremendously to be in a fertile recruiting ground since building locally is still more consistent than the national approach. And, of course, it takes exceptional leadership at the top, and Ryan Day’s responsibility will now be proving that he is on the same footing as national champions like Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney.
The fact that Swinney has become that for Clemson would have been hard to imagine early in his career. But his rise and the way he’s been able to turn his program into an annual threat to win it all has been truly impressive. Aside from just bringing in good players and retaining top-flight assistants who easily could be leading their own teams elsewhere, Swinney has really helped the Tigers stand out by establishing them as the family-first, tight-knit destination.
Now, that doesn’t mean Ohio State or Alabama don’t preach that as well. Generally speaking, all three of the College Football Playoff champions are going to be able to offer the nation’s best players the same opportunity to compete at the highest level, develop a bond with teammates, get a solid education and get ready for the NFL. So, the trick is finding the right niche to highlight in an arms race that now also should include Oklahoma and Georgia.
Having been around Swinney for a couple bowl games with plenty of media opportunities, his folksy charm, engaging personality and passionate beliefs definitely stood in contrast to the way Urban Meyer or Saban handle their business. All of them were successful, obviously, so there’s no right or wrong approach here. But Day is much more like Swinney or Lincoln Riley with the Sooners, and it’s possible that subtle tweak could in effect re-brand the Buckeyes a bit as they transition out of the Meyer Era. (And, again, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way the previous guy was doing things while winning the last two Big Ten titles.)
The Buckeyes had earned a reputation over the last few years for a serious, business-like approach. And while that overshadows at times the fact that Best Fridays in Football are laid-back, fun-loving afternoons or the value of what Ohio State is providing in terms of internships and academic opportunities, it was certainly part of the feedback on the recruiting trail. A number of players want that, of course, and that helped the Buckeyes land two of the most loaded classes of signees in school history.
But maybe a slight softening of that under Day, while maintaining all the rest of the proven structures already in place, can be a boost for the Buckeyes down the road as they try to keep pace with Clemson and Alabama.
Right now, there’s really no question that Ohio State is still in that race. And it’s up to Ryan Day to make sure that it doesn’t lose a step in his first season.
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