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BREKNG NEWS: ohio state coach Ryan Day has signed a new…..

Ryan Day has been elite in every measure but the one that matters most

Ohio State Coach Ryan Day is looking to avoid a third consecutive loss to Michigan on Saturday. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

Imagine the factors necessary to craft the bespoke ignominy Ohio State Coach Ryan Day could be facing after this weekend: “The 56-7 head coach we need to fire.”

Since taking the job from Urban Meyer in December 2018, the former Buckeyes offensive coordinator has proven exemplary at every facet of arguably the best gig in college sports minus one unofficial, outsized requirement: beating Michigan.

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Unless Ohio State can pull off a minor upset Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Day is on the brink of a third consecutive loss and a 1-3 record against The School Up North. This prospect is untenable for Ohio State fans, even in the face of an otherwise sterling record (dominant recruiting, an NFL pipeline, two conference titles, two College Football Playoff appearances) that correctly puts a nationally dominant brand perpetually on the cusp of a national championship and will keep Day in place even if a certain element wants him out.

College football best bets: Take the under in Ohio State-Michigan

Day’s work in Columbus is everything an Ohio State fan could ask for, minus the one thing that is possibly more important than actual championships. If you disagree, find your local Buckeye, probably disenfranchised despite the team boasting the best player in the sport in Marvin Harrison Jr. and an 11-0 record entering Saturday, and do the following:

1. Ask them if they think Day should go if Ohio State gets drubbed again Saturday.

2. When they say yes, submit the blind résumé of a head coach with an offensive background who has won 90 percent of his games, is 18-6 against ranked teams and has overseen four consecutive top-five signing classes producing future first-round draft picks.

3. Tell them it’s Day. (Allow for four to six feet of space.)

Plainly spoken, it doesn’t matter if you can’t beat Michigan.

This is not an exercise in belittling Ohio State fans specifically, they just happen to occupy this bizarre space of taking serious issue with a coach nearly every other fan base would die for. College football’s reductive psychology is a feature, not a bug. Plug these circumstances into any of the sport’s rivalries among the ruling class and you’d create similar circumstances.

What’s unique to Day’s plight is he is making people miss the idea of Urban Meyer. The dirty secret in this sport is that you’re not selling success, you’re selling the anticipation of success. Ever notice how annoyed Nick Saban is the nanosecond after Alabama wins a national title? That’s because the clock has immediately rolled over to a new set of expectations, and any recognition of what just occurred is wasteful hindsight inapplicable to the new task at hand. Even at the highest levels — especially at the highest levels, wherein those with the deepest pockets roam — a college football coach deals in emotional equity of a brighter tomorrow, and Meyer had it to spare in Columbus.

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Meyer is still a popular name in histrionic message board cultures when a vacancy opens. This is basically because he is an unemployed, living head coach with a national title in the playoff era, full stop. Meyer’s prospects in a transfer portal, NIL world with his checkered track record are dubious at best, and I’d argue that if he returned to Columbus tomorrow, the program would be worse for it by 2025 compared with holding serve with Day.

But the Ohio native’s unblemished 7-0 record against Michigan insulated him from strife over various postseason letdowns and offered the benefit of every doubt when he encountered scandal. Meyer owned Michigan every November, which made every next season something Buckeyes fans could anticipate. To this end, he keeps a halo around his head in Ohio. Folks don’t miss him, they miss the perpetual confidence.

I would still argue that Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Alabama after the 2014 season is the most important college football game of this generation because of its instant validation of the playoff format, and certainly there’s no standard higher than the national title Meyer brought to Columbus days later, but all politics are local, and 7-0 is unassailable. It’s what defines him there, and that’s most important when the current guy can’t compare.

I’m also not entirely sure Michigan’s current mess works in Day’s favor. At some point Big Blue’s 2023 narrative expanded beyond the capacity of a single summary — you do remember Coach Jim Harbaugh is serving his second on-field suspension of the season, right? — to the point where the details of Day’s undefeated Ohio State team feel unnoticed.

Is it possible for one of the largest brands in this sport to fly under the radar in an undefeated season going into the season’s biggest game? And if so, wouldn’t a loss to Michigan on Saturday serve as the defining feature of the Buckeyes’ entire season? After all, the other team’s coach wasn’t even allowed in the stadium, and you still lost.

Conversely, if the Buckeyes win Saturday, you could craft a narrative that Day only loses to “The School Up North” when it “cheats,” but that’s a gross simplification of Michigan’s two recent victories over Ohio State. Even assuming the Wolverines benefited as much as possible from advance scouting of play signals, Michigan’s 2021 and 2022 wins were results of total program improvement: Neither the 42-27 or 45-23 outcomes were particularly close. Michigan was a more dominant program imposing a dramatically improved product previously unseen in the Harbaugh era.

Whether you choose to maximize or minimize the tangible benefit the scouting scandal provided the Wolverines, neither viewpoint accounts for anything close to the total whipping Michigan put on Ohio State. A sane perspective on Michigan’s 2023 will be possible only when we can hold competing ideas simultaneously: The signal scandal was far beyond the standard unofficial practice and cuts at the heart of Michigan’s self-aggrandized piousness, and it didn’t really matter when the Wolverines could just beat teams to death with a blunt Blake Corum.

Day knows this, and so, too, does Ohio State, while also recognizing that there’s nothing wrong with its program except for the fact its rival is just as good for the first time in the modern era of the game. Both schools are legitimate national title contenders in a four-team championship format for the third consecutive season, and neither shows signs of waning (minus some mythical NCAA tidal wave and/or NFL job offer crashing over Ann Arbor, and even if that happens, interim head coach Sherrone Moore has looked more than capable).

We’re just unaccustomed to a single rivalry holding this much championship potential. That doesn’t mean Ohio State would take any legitimate move toward terminating Day if he loses Saturday. That would mark a level of insanity heretofore unseen in a sport constructed in the absence of logic.

But this is college football; emotion is undefeated against logic, and the first time that’s not true, it won’t be college football.

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