Welcome to Jim Harbaugh’s past life, Ryan Day.
That’s how things work at the top of the college football food chain. If you can’t win the most important game of your schedule, the question arises, are you the right man for the job?
For the second straight season, the Michigan team beat Harbaugh Day and Ohio State.
Day is 45-5 at Ohio State as a substitute for Urban Meyer, but he’s 1-2 against Michigan.
“We’ll find out what’s next. I don’t know exactly what’s coming next, but that’s life in Ohio State.” day to reporters. “If you lose, it all comes back to me as the head coach. And that probably hurts the most.”
What hurts Ohio State fans the most is that The Game was played in a way that was meant to be the advantage of the second-seeded Buckeyes, a back-and-forth affair in which the quarterbacks had to make the difference.
With star running back Blake Corum, the third-placed Wolverines turned from ground-and-pound into a big-play machine, ripping off five touchdowns for a total of 349 yards.
Meanwhile, Day was poking around from midfield in fourth and third.
“In games like this you have to play the field position game,” day said. “I just feel like you’re not in those situations when you convert to third downs.”
Ohio State was 5 for 16 in third place.
Under Day, Ohio State has become a factory for quarterbacks and wide receivers. CJ Stroud will almost certainly be the Buckeyes’ third straight passer to be a first-round NFL draft pick next April.
Marvin Harrison Jr. is the top receiver in the country. He’s part of a room full of blue chippers who produced two first-round picks last draft.
The talent doesn’t stop there. Ohio state has the third most talented roster in college football, behind Georgia and Alabama, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings based on star recruitment.
So of course it has to be the coaching, right? And whether it really is the coaching is not the point. Michigan (12-0) planted their flag squarely in the middle of the Ohio State block “O” at the 50 yard line after the game. Someone is being held responsible for this happening.
Meyer never lost to the Wolverines. Before that, it was Jim Tressel who turned the Buckeyes’ rivalry on its head, beating Michigan 9-1.
Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to dominating That Team Up North.
When Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan from the NFL as a potential savior for his alma mater’s struggling football program, Wolverines fans hoped he could change their fortunes in The Game.
Instead, Harbaugh went 0-5. Never mind that he rebuilt the program and pulled Michigan out of its greatest depths. At the top of his resume: Ohio State is unbeatable. And for that he was pilloried.
No longer. Michigan may not be the more talented team, but it certainly looks like the tougher team, the team that handles adversity better.
“This is a spiritual team” Harbaugh said. “They are happy. They celebrate, but they see bigger things.”
The Big Ten championship against Purdue awaits next week. Win that and Michigan will make its second straight college football playoff.
There’s still a chance the Buckeyes will return to the CFP and maybe find redemption there. The selection committee seems to be running out of good options after Clemson also lost on Saturday.
That’s not what the state of Ohio had in mind. Last season, after the defense melted down in major places, Day coordinator Jim Knowles lured away from Oklahoma State to fix the problem.
Did not work. At least not when it mattered.
Now Day, a coach with a mountain of accomplishments and an annual salary of more than $9 million, is being judged for his mistakes and compared to former Buckeyes coach John Cooper.
Cooper is a Hall of Famer, but for Ohio State fans he’s best remembered for that: 2-10-1 against Michigan.