It’s fair to question Ryan Day’s handling of Michigan’s sign-stealing

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After Jim Harbaugh, the college football coach with the most to lose in the Michigan sign-stealing scandal is Ohio State’s Ryan Day. Coaching the Buckeyes comes with insane expectations, and there have been grumblings about Day’s last two losses against its most hated rival, the team’s physicality, and anything else entitled OSU fans can think to grumble about.

Jim Harbaugh’s failure at Michigan

While it’s fair to blame Connor Stalions for the Buckeyes’ no-shows, that’s not an excuse for losing. There are questions about how long Stalions had been scouting opponents in person, with a Big Ten source alleging the scheme was as advanced as it is unsettling.

“This is worse than both the Astros and the Patriots — it’s both use of technology for a competitive advantage and there’s allegations that they are filming prior games, not just in-game. If it was just an in-game situation, that’s different. Going and filming somewhere you’re not supposed to be. It’s illegal. It’s too much of an advantage.”

Alright, if it were that bad, then other Big Ten coaches would have heard about it, which is what happened.

“We were told to be careful because they had a guy who could pick plays,” one Big Ten head coach told Yahoo Sports. “It was too late in the week to change our signals, but another staff did tell us about [Stalions].”

That, to me, damns other Big Ten coaches almost as much as Harbaugh. The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing is top of mind because MLB clubs were onto Houston long before the league officially got involved, and smart teams tried to mitigate the Stros’ “uncanny” scouting.

The Washington Nationals constantly changed their signs during the 2019 World Series while the Yankees needed to be informed of malfeasance before attempting to combat it. Well, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa wait for no one, and New York is still waiting on another trip to the World Series.

That’s where Day and Ohio State come in. No one in Columbus thought it was weird that CJ Stroud looked like a shell of himself against U-M, and nobody else? The guy is resetting NFL record books for rookie quarterbacks and torched Georgia’s defense for 348 yards and four TDs, but he couldn’t find an open receiver against a Wolverine defense that got torn apart by TCU?

Day strikes me as a brilliant offensive mind, and a really good head coach; he’s a big reason why the expectations at Ohio State stay in the stratosphere. At the same time, there might be a little naivete because his success comes so effortlessly.

While we have no idea how long Stalions’s operation went on, or to what extent, the Wolverines didn’t start steamrolling through the Big Ten until 2021. You think ol’ Dad Pants didn’t feel his seat getting hot? They were 2-4 in the COVID year.

“Flaming out at your alma mater” is the kind of pressure that forces desperation. If you’ve never been squarely in the sights of your naysayers, which hasn’t really happened to Day yet, I can see why there’d be an assumption of integrity.

That’s not reality though, and there’s too much at stake to assume your opponent is playing fair just because you are. Those two Ls to Michigan arguably cost Stroud the top spot in the NFL draft and a Heisman, but they cost Ohio State more.

With a win in 2022, the Buckeyes would’ve avoided a first-round matchup against reigning champ Georgia in the College Football Playoff. Beat Michigan in 2021, and they take their spot in the CFP. Competitiveness is not the same as ruthlessness, and — justified or not — winning a national title takes as much of the latter as it does the former.

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