Is 2024 a make-or-break year for Ryan Day and Ohio State football?

Dec 29, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Lincoln Kienholz (12) talks to
Dec 29, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Lincoln Kienholz (12) talks to / Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA

When Urban Meyer now infamously passed that controller to Ryan Day in the announcement video for Ohio State football's next head coach, Buckeye fans everywhere were rejoicing. They would be keeping an Urban diciple to lead the program after two successful years as offensive coordinator.

Things looked to be headed for another golden era early on with a 13-1 first season under Day where he finished 9-0 in the Big Ten, beating Michigan and going to the playoff where he lost in the semifinal.

The next season was COVID-shortened and Day still managed to lead Ohio State to a Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff, winning the Sugar Bowl before losing in the title game. No one could complain about a 20-2 start to his tenure with a 14-0 Big Ten record and two conference titles with a national title game loss.

And then the unthinkable happened in 2021. After having the 2020 matchup with Michigan canceled, Ohio State went into the 2021 matchup with a 10-1 record and a playoff berth almost securely in hand. Michigan shocked the Buckeyes, giving Jim Harbaugh his first win over Ohio State. The Wolverines would end up losing in the semifinal of the playoff while Ohio State won the Rose Bowl.

In 2022, Michigan went into Columbus and beat the 11-0 Buckeyes. Fortunately, Ohio State still made the playoff, but a missed field goal was the difference between them playing for a national title against TCU and going home empty handed. It was the closest the Buckeyes were to winning it all since 2020.

Disappointment struck in the form of Michigan yet again in 2023 with 11-0 Ohio State falling in Ann Arbor in the season finale before also losing in the Cotton Bowl to Missouri, mustering just three points.

So now Day enters the 2024 season with three straight losses to Michigan and no Big Ten title since 2020. He does have four 11-plus-win seasons and the only reason he doesn't have five is because COVID didn't allow for that.

But that begs the question: is 2024 make-or-break for Ryan Day?

At any other program, a 56-8 record over five-plus seasons with a 39-3 mark in conference play would be enough to earn a lifetime contract. But at Ohio State where the top goal outside of winning the Big Ten and a national title is beating Michigan, having all three of those conference losses coming against the Wolverines is a major no-no. Michigan is the sole reason Ohio State is on a three-year Big Ten title drought.

Does Day need to beat Michigan this year in order to keep his job in 2025? I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes. If he loses to Michigan for a fourth straight year and second time in Columbus, every major donor and alum will be calling for his job. To be a successful coach at Ohio State, you have to beat Michigan and win the Big Ten regularly.

Sure, with the new Big Ten format as four new teams have been added, Ohio State could still technically lose to Michigan and win the Big Ten title. Also, Day could save his job with a playoff berth and national title appearance or win. But a 12-team playoff becomes that much more difficult to win if you don't get that coveted bye in round one as a top-four seed.

Is 2024 make-or-break for Day? If he doesn't beat Michigan and fails to either make the playoff or win the Big Ten, I would say yes. But that's the price you pay for leading one of the nation's elite programs.