Ohio State Buckeyes: Ryan Day will wait to worry about numbers, rankings

Was that Ryan Day or Woody Hayes on the radio talking about preseason praise for the Ohio State football team?

“The last thing we want to see is our ourselves at the top of anything because you have to come in and want to prove yourself every day,” the coach of the Buckeyes told WBNS radio in Columbus this week.

Hayes died in 1987, so of course it had to be Day speaking in this case.

He was answering a question about his team being No. 1 in the most-recent iteration of SP+ rankings on ESPN.com, an advanced metric developed long after Hayes’ career ended in 1978.

Nonetheless, Day’s response has much in common with one of Woody’s favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“I hate to be defended in a newspaper,” Emerson wrote in an essay titled, “Compensation,” decades before American football began being played in the Northeast and spread throughout the country. “As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success.

“But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies.”

Day’s team won’t face off against any enemies on the field until Notre Dame comes to Columbus on Sept. 3, but he is still worried about a foe even older than the Fighting Irish: complacency.

“If you don’t have the mentality that you’re going to prove yourself on the field every single week with competitive stamina, it doesn’t work,” Day said. “So these guys are still 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old guys who are still like figuring out the game.”

SP+ is a compilation of a team’s efficiency on a play-by-play basis and ability to generate and stop big plays, not unlike on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) in baseball.

It also takes into consideration roster strength (via recruiting rankings), a team’s recent results and quality of competition.

The rating begins as a projection relying on figures from the recent past but evolves as the season goes on and new numbers are generated from week to week.

“Now I think as you get to midseason and towards the end of the season maybe some more of those analytics come into play, but our roster and everybody’s roster turns over so much year to year in the college game now more than ever,” Day said.

“I think going into a season, it’s hard to predict much. The good news is we have a lot of our team back so I think that that’s good. You can project a little bit, but we won’t know what kind of team we have until we get to September and October.”

Day’s knowledge that teams such as his can’t afford more than one loss if they want to make the four-team College Football Playoff adds to the sense of urgency to have a productive summer.

“The hard thing around here is we can’t wait that long. We’ve got to push the pedal to the metal right here and preseason camp and even now because we don’t have any ability to trip up at all,” said Day, whose team lost in Week 2 to Oregon last year then saw what hope it had to win another Big Ten title or make the CFP destroyed by Michigan in the regular season finale. “We’ve gotta start right from the get-go, build as the season goes on, and then play our best football at the end of the season.

“So we we look at those analytics, but at the end of the day, it’s about how do you bring it every week at a high level? And I think that’s going to be the focus more than anything else.”

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