With Michigan Win Behind Him, Ohio State's Ryan Day Can Breathe
Nothing would have changed for Ohio State had it lost Saturday at Michigan, rather than dominate the Wolverines, 56-27, to win its regular season-ending rivalry game for an eighth straight season and 15th time in 16 seasons.
Even had they lost, the Buckeyes (12-0) would still be getting ready to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.
They just wouldn't be doing it with much joy.
Not that OSU head coach Ryan Day really feels any of that now.
While his fan base never tires of dunking on the Wolverines -- the more posterized embarrassment Day's offense can inflict, the better -- he didn't hesitate when asked whether his takeaway from coaching his first game in the series trends more toward relief or happiness.
"Relief," he said. "Yeah, it wasn't even close. I didn't know what I would feel, but it was absolutely relief."
Had things gone the other way, Ohio State would likely still be Playoff bound, provided it defeats Wisconsin for the second time this season in their 8 p.m. game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
So in that sense, a loss at Michigan wouldn't have barred the Buckeyes from accomplishing their ultimate goal of winning the national championship.
Day understands that, but he also understands the grading scale for an OSU coach. The 11 games that precede Michigan are tests with important consequences, but no Ohio State coach gets a pass if they flunk the final exam.
"To say that I didn’t internalize a lot of emotions that week, leading up to that game, would not be accurate," Day said. "A lot went into that. It’s not just me, it’s my family, it’s the staff, it’s this team. There’s just so much that goes into that."
The bar at OSU has always been high, and the Michigan rivalry has always been the ultimate standard, but the leeway for losing is now unrelenting because of the dominance in the rivalry under Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel.
Meyer went 7-0 and Tressel 9-1, with Michigan's only win since 2004 coming in the 2011 season with OSU in flux under interim head coach Luke Fickell.
This class of Ohio State seniors is therefore the fifth in a row to cycle through four Michigan games and never lose to the Wolverines.
"Awww, man, it's great," said wide receiver Austin Mack, who caught one of OSU's four touchdown passes on Saturday. "I don't even know what to say, right? There ain't words to it. Forever, I can say, 'I never lost to Michigan.' Like, forever. I mean, even if it gets to a time where it switches....I got four (victories). Everybody I played with? I got four. It's just real. It's bragging rights. I love it."
Such comments bring to life the emotions Day saw exhibited by his players and their parents outside the locker room in Ann Arbor, where their overriding emotion wasn't the relief he felt, but the joy in gaining a victory Ohio State focuses on throughout the year.
"Its’s as good of a feeling that you could possibly have as a person," Day said of watching his players enjoy that moment. "To think about the time we put into this thing to see that, then quickly to think about what this means in the history and tradition of this game, look at really what’s gone on the last couple years in this game, it’s very, very humbling."
Especially so, when Day considers the alternative, as he did briefly in a conversation with defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley upon entering the Woody Hayes Athletic Center:
"He said to me the next morning, 'Imagine walking in the Woody with all the signage up on the walls and not winning that game, have to walk by it 365 days, not winning that game.' I said, I don’t even know what that would be like."