A big negative of the pre-playoff era was the necessity to go undefeated if you wanted to win the national championship.
Why was this bad? Because going undefeated was as much a fluke as anything.
It created a lot of drama, though, and that became part of the charm of following college football.
The 12-team playoff will ruin that next year for minimal gain, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.
The pursuit of perfection remains a goal for everyone even though one-loss teams are pretty much all alive in the national title race until the end of the season or at least close to it.
I think that expectation of perfection also has a long tail that bleeds into a lot of analysis of college football teams.
Even though it is not realistic, and everyone pretty much knows it’s not realistic, Ohio State games (and games of other powerhouse programs) are viewed with an eye cocked toward those weaknesses that could be their undoing if not today then down the road.
That’s maybe not the most healthy approach, but it is the way things are.
And say this for Ryan Day: Ohio State’s head coach has not backed down from such expectations.
This week he went further when he said he tells his players they are not allowed to have a bad day.
“I think it’s a mindset,” Day said. “You’re not allowed to have a bad day at Ohio State — of us. That’s just the way it goes. So I say all the time on your bad days you have to at least be average at the very least, if not better than that. Your average days, you got to be really good, and on your good days, you’ve got to be great.”
So, how are the Buckeyes doing as far as eliminating weaknesses?
Let’s look at three areas:
1. The offense has been exposed by good opponents at times, though some of its mistakes are self-inflicted.
Most notably that would be Kyle McCord’s occasional lapses in judgement, his mechanics breaking down at times and blocking failures by the offensive line (and tight ends).
Many are fixable, but that does not mean they get fixed.
Day hasn’t run from them nor has he given up on fixing them even as the end of the season bears down.
The coaching staff also plays a role here, of course.
Day and Co. must take each piece of information they get about what their guys can and can’t do and use it to craft game plans that emphasize the former and not the latter.
Day said McCord “had some good snaps” but acknowledged there were some mistakes he’s got to avoid in the future.
The coach also put a pretty positive spin on the play of the offensive line in Madison, and after rewatching the game I agreed with him more than I thought I would.
Having a lightning-quick back like TreVeyon Henderson helps immensely, but the running game was overall very productive. The biggest issue was how many times he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. Those were often the result of an unblocked man coming from the backside, not a matter of failing to get push at the point of attack. That is something the staff should ve able to take advantage of in the future.
2. Some skepticism is warranted thanks to the way last season ended, but the success of the defense looks durable.
More experience and more knowledge of the scheme helps immensely, and Jim Knowles seems to be doing a better job managing each player’s job.
Each player in turn is doing his job better.
Are there yards out there to be made against the Buckeyes? Yes, no question. Especially for an efficient quarterback with good weapons to utilize.
This is still a day and age when great offenses are going to get theirs, and Ohio State has not faced a great offense, but each time an opponent has found something it has usually been fixed quickly.
The cat and mouse game becomes more complicated against better offenses, but that is why Knowles was hired.
Almost totally shutting down average or worse offenses is nothing to sneeze at, though, especially given what the 2018, ‘20 and ‘21 seasons looked like for the most part.
3. Continued health is also going to be important all the way around.
Lathan Ransom is having a great bounce-back season at safety, but he suffered a non-contact injury Saturday night. He appeared to be favoring his left ankle as he limped off the field, and Day said more about his status later this week, but that isn’t promising.
Having already gotten so many minutes for both Sonny Styles and Jordan Hancock could pay off there, though.
On offense, the Buckeyes could miss the inside running presence of Miyan Williams now that he is lost for the year, but we have also seen OSU running backs play better over the years when not splitting carries. Riding Henderson down the stretch could pay dividends — if, of course, he himself can stay healthy.
Will McCord’s ankle continue to be a concern? It bares watching.