Ohio State’s Ryan Day embracing great expectations after busy month building roster

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

COLUMBUS — Count Ryan Day among those who believe Ohio State is loaded for bear in 2024.

And Ducks.

And Longhorns.

Bulldogs? Wolverines?

Yes, all of them and more.

“I do,” was his two-word reply when Day was asked if he felt his Ohio State football roster is good enough to win the national championship.

Day has shared such sentiment in the past, including 2020 when quarterback Justin Fields headlined a group of returning veterans from a team that went 13-1 in 2019, losing a one-score game to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The Buckeyes beat the Tigers the following year but ran into a buzzsaw Alabama squad in the National Championship Game then had 10 players selected in the NFL Draft.

Ohio State has not won the Big Ten or a playoff game since, but figuring out the source of Day’s optimism is not difficult.

He is returning almost everyone from a top 10 defense, the Big Ten’s leading rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver plus four starters on the offensive line.

Day also added five possible starters via the transfer portal in quarterback Will Howard, running back Quinshon Judkins, center Seth McLaughlin, tight end Will Kacmarek and safety Caleb Downs.

The first time they met with reporters in Columbus, every member of the latter group expressed a desire to win and a belief it can happen leading them to OSU, but now comes the hard part: Actually doing it.

“As a leader, it’s your job to put a plan together and create a vision of what it could look like,” Day said. “And it started with these guys deciding to come back.”

He indicated the first to do that were defensive backs Lathan Ransom, a senior who is using his extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Denzel Burke, a junior three-year starter.

After that, junior defensive end Jack Sawyer started talking about making it a movement.

“‘Hey, we need to bring this thing back,’” Day described Sawyer as saying. “‘We need to go chase a championship next year. There’s a lot of things that we need to do.’”

When running back TreVeyon Henderson, receiver Emeka Egbuka, offensive lineman Donovan Jackson and Josh Fryar, defensive linemen Tyleik Williams, Ty Hamilton and J.T. Tuimoloau, linebacker Cody Simon and Jordan Hancock all decided to come back, too, 2024 stopped looking like a rebuilding year and more like a season that could be special.

“That’s just the beginning,” Day said. “Now we have to go to the spring and execute the plan. It’s a long, long road. There’s no magic recipe to this thing other than hard work. And we know it’s gonna be a long run to next January, but that was one thing that I felt like as a leader, we need to put a plan together, create a vision of what we want this to look like in the next month and go to work about executing.”

The schedule has some challenges but looks manageable, especially given the likely impact of the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams.

The Buckeyes open with home games against Akron, Western Michigan and Marshall before going to Michigan State.

The Spartans are coming off consecutive losing seasons, but they could be energized by new head coach Jonathan Smith, who turned around a struggling Oregon State program by installing a power offense.

Next comes Iowa, which returns most of the key pieces from one of the best defenses in the country and hired a new offensive coordinator in hopes of improving one of the nation’s worst scoring units.

A trip to Oregon on Oct. 12 figures to be one of the games of the year in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes have to go to Penn State on the first weekend of November.

How much Michigan resembles the team that won the national championship last month remains to be seen following the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh, multiple assistant coaches and most of the offense, but that does not mean the Wolverines will lack confidence coming to Columbus riding a three-game winning streak in The Game.

To that end, the talent Day has collected could have another effect on the season.

As optimism builds, so does the pressure to take care of business, but Day said he isn’t worried about the mental side.

“I would say it’s like that every year,” Day said. “And we have an opportunity with an unbelievable team to go attack this thing next year. And that’s what it comes down to.”

He is also happy to see the positive buzz surrounding the program after the season ended with a thud, first with a loss to Michigan then a 14-3 debacle against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.

“To see the fans and Buckeye Nation kind of buzzing over the last few weeks about this team and get behind this team and building it, I think the guys feel it.

“We’re a long way away from the season, but pressure — pressure is a privilege, and these guys have an opportunity now to go have a great season.

“Knowing that it’s a long way away and there’s a lot of work to be done, but when you look at the team, we’ve got the right guys in the right seats right now. Now, what kind of leadership do we have? There’s a lot of things that now we need to do to attack, but I think we all embrace that. And that’s why we’re at Ohio State.”

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