Ohio State: What does the Rose Bowl really mean?
This is the third in a series of Saturday Tradition stories previewing Tuesday’s Rose Bowl between No. 6 Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, and No. 9 Washington, the Pac-12 winner. On Friday we looked at the matchup between Ohio State’s defense and Washington’s offense. On Saturday we previewed the Buckeyes offense against the Huskies defense. Today we ask: What does this game really mean for Ohio State?
The exit came so soon, yet feels overdue. The succession plan was in place, but its execution was quick.
Tuesday’s Rose Bowl is both a farewell and the start of a new era.
The Granddaddy of Them All (5 p.m. ET, New Year’s Day, ESPN) is the final game for Urban Meyer as Ohio State’s coach. Ryan Day, who took over for three games on an interim basis to start this season when Meyer was suspended, will take over as head coach after the game.
OSU suspended Meyer because of how he handled domestic violence charges against former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith. Meyer also has had health issues including a cyst on his brain.
Meyer reiterated in an interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler that, “I don’t believe I’ll coach football again.” ESPN will air the entire segment before the Rose Bowl.
It became clear in the wake of Meyer’s retirement this month that OSU had chosen Day to succeed Meyer whenever that happened. As it turns out, it happened fairly quickly.
So what does all of this mean for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl?
It means the players — at least the ones planning to come back next season — need to conduct themselves as though Day is already in charge. In fact that would be a pretty good idea for the coaching staff and game-day planning.
Sure, Meyer will want to ride off into the sunset as a winner. But it’s much more important for Day to come off well and that means the Buckeyes will have to put on a convincing performance. Fairly or not, and it’s probably fair, analysts and future recruits alike will use the Rose Bowl to judge the state of the Buckeyes football program.
It probably would have benefited Day to just have Meyer step aside completely after the Big Ten title game victory over Northwestern so Day could get more experience being truly in charge. Day got that opportunity in the first three games this season but two of those games, against Oregon State and Rutgers, were so lopsided that almost anyone could have coached the Buckeyes to victory. The third game against TCU in Arlington, Texas, was more of a test but that victory came in an unusual atmosphere because Day knew that Meyer was coming back the next day to take over again.
As for how the players are approaching this game? Around the country more players are sitting out bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft. But OSU’s pro-bound players are all participating in the Rose Bowl except for Nick Bosa, who announced months ago that he was leaving the program. Bosa was injured against TCU and had surgery, then made the decision very early to leave. His decision was obvious because he seems very likely to be drafted No. 1 overall.
Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, players like defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones (declared for the NFL Draft) and quarterback Dwayne Haskins (unannounced, but with such high draft stock that he probably should turn pro) are playing in the Rose Bowl.
That’s encouraging for OSU and for Day because those players’ desire to play in this game reflects well on the culture he must build in Columbus. Ohio State football is a name brand and will always pull in great recruits but Meyer’s whole saga this year damaged that brand. Day’s ability to extract maximum effort out of players who already have one foot out the door on their way to the NFL will catch the attention of high school players who are considering Ohio State in the wake of Meyer’s departure.
There is an argument to be made that winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl is still a fine reward just as it was in the days of Woody Hayes — in fact I have made that argument — but there’s no denying that nowadays it has become a consolation prize for teams who don’t make the College Football Playoff. At least two-thirds of the time because the Rose is a CFP semifinal the other third of the time.
Yet this is Meyer’s first time coaching in the Rose Bowl. It sure sounds like it’s special to him. And it’s the first appearance for OSU in Pasadena since 2010 so none of these players has participated in this game. They should treat it as special.
Day will too. Beating Washington would be nice, but losing would be a black eye for OSU considering how poorly the Pac-12 has fared this season.
Because ultimately, for the sake of Ohio State football, sending out Urban Meyer out as a winner is way less important than sending Ryan Day in as a winner.