Returning players, key transfers, O'Brien hiring kick-start offseason for Ohio State's Ryan Day

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Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, center, reacts on the sideline during the second half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Missouri, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The weeks after the end of the 2023 season looked potentially disastrous for Ohio State coach Ryan Day.

Instead, before the end of January, Day has got a new offensive coordinator in the experienced Bill O'Brien and a roster that may put the Buckeyes in better competitive shape than last season.

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The hiring of O'Brien, the former Alabama offensive coordinator and Houston Texans and Penn State coach, was announced Friday.

With so many players NFL eligible and others following unhappy starting quarterback Kyle McCord into the transfer portal, Ohio State looked to be in for long winter of reconfiguring and rebuilding.

But a mass exodus did not materialize.

In fact, at least a dozen key contributors eligible for the NFL draft decided to stay in Columbus for another year, and the transfer portal provided the Buckeyes with more than it took away.

The season had clunked to an end with a third consecutive loss to Michigan and a listless performance against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl with NFL-bound receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. sitting out and McCord having already announced his transfer to Syracuse.

“That's not acceptable at Ohio State, and we all know that,” Day said after the bowl game loss Dec. 29.

Day got busy, plucking a top quarterback, running back and center from the portal while losing only one other starter when Julian Fleming — the No. 3 receiver and a Pennsylvania native — jumped to Big Ten rival Penn State.

The departures of Harrison and Fleming were mitigated by blue chip wideout Emeka Egbuka's decision to stay. The pro prospect had 1,151 receiving yards in 2022 but he was slowed by an ankle injury that limited his numbers last season.

So there will be one experienced receiver for whomever emerges from the now crowded stable of quarterbacks that includes transfer Will Howard, who passed for nearly 5,800 yards and 48 touchdowns in four years at Kansas State.

He's the early favorite to start in 2024 but not without competition from Devin Brown, whose big chance to audition for the role was cut short by a first-half ankle injury in the Cotton Bowl. Also in that mix will be sophomore Lincoln Kienholz and heralded QB recruit Air Noland, who is already on campus.

“Bottom line — we didn’t reach our goals this year. And that’s everybody," Day said, refusing to single out the departed McCord, who threw two devastating interceptions in the 30-24 loss to eventual national champion Michigan.

“The quarterback room is one of them," Day said. "That's the bottom line. When you look at the whole, we didn't get our job done.”

No. 1 running back TreVeyon Henderson put off the NFL draft to play at Ohio Stadium another season after injuries affected his production in the last two. The addition of 1,000-yard rusher Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss should give the Buckeyes one of the best backfield tandems in college football.

The offensive line, which returns four starters, took much of the blame for Ohio State finishing 87th in the nation in rushing yards (138.8 per game). The Buckeyes will get some help in new center Seth McLaughlin, who transferred from Alabama.

Top defensive linemen Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau and Tyleik Williams all stayed.

The Buckeyes have to replace excellent starting linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers but will return three top cornerbacks and two safeties.

Besides O'Brien being added, other coaching changes have been made and more could be coming.

Day fired safeties coach Perry Eliano and replaced him with Matt Guerrieri from the Indiana staff. Special teams coordinator Parker Fleming also was fired.

“Everything's going to get looked at,” Day said. “And if it helps Ohio State go reach our goals and win these games, we'll make those changes.”


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