COMMENTARY: What Michigan being national champions now means for Ohio State's future

Jan. 9—Michigan completed a 15-0 season Monday night with a dominant win over Washington in the CFP National Championship Game.

That completed a three-year journey to the top that started after a disastrous 2020 that seemed to have the Wolverines on the verge of starting all over.

Maybe they did come pretty close to starting all over, but they did not change the head coach.

Jim Harbaugh stayed in Ann Arbor, retooled his coaching staff, revamped the offseason program and made his alma mater the best team in America for the first time since 1997, when the Wolverines shared the national title with Nebraska.

Ohio State is nowhere near Michigan 2020, but the Buckeyes also appear to be back in mid-1990s after losing three in a row to the Wolverines.

With a pair of nice wins over ranked Notre Dame teams coached by someone from Ohio, a Rose Bowl victory and Michigan wearing the national champion's laurels, the parallels are unmistakable.

Ryan Day may not be John Cooper, but the Ohio State head coach seems very much in danger of ending up with a similar fate: Great record, great recruiting, great NFL draft numbers but unable to take full advantage because of an inability to get by Michigan.

Ironically, Cooper had multiple teams that would have likely benefited greatly from playing in the College Football Playoff era because one game ruined their season, but we're not here to talk about the past.

Let's look forward.

What does Day do to reverse the slide, catch Michigan and have his team prepared to win a CFP that expands to 12 teams next season?

Here are three things already underway and two more to take under advisement:

1. Changes in the coaching staff are still expected, though that is nothing new.

Day had to revamp the defensive coaching staff as soon as he took over for Meyer, and he did so again two years ago. That is paying off, but the offense appears to be in line for a makeover this year after struggling without veteran offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson last fall.

Whether or not that works out like Michigan's 2021 staff redux or turns out to be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic remains to be seen, but one has to give Day credit for trying something new.

The first move to become public is the exit of safeties coach Perry Eliano.

2. Retain more veterans.

Michigan deftly utilized the transfer portal and name, image and likeness payments to build up its roster while also taking advantage of the ability to keep players for an extra year because of the pandemic season.

The Wolverines had a lot of veterans on their first Big Ten championship team of this run in 2021, but what looked like a one-year wonder turned into more because they were able to retain a few would-be seniors and replace others with veterans from other schools.

They did the same thing a year ago, and now they are national champions.

Ohio State appears to be following a similar path. Though there might not be many super seniors on the OSU roster, a handful of juniors have already announced they are staying in Columbus for another season when they could have gone ahead and started playing for NFL dollars next fall. The chance to actually win something in their time in Columbus is nothing to sneeze at, but surely NIL dollars are a factor as well.

3. Fill needs in the transfer portal.

The Buckeyes already have commitments from a new quarterback, running back, tight end and center. They brought in eight transfers last season, so they probably aren't done.

How will Will Howard, Quinshon Judson, Will Kacmarek and Seth McLaughlin meld together with the holdovers on the Ohio State offense? Only time will tell, but all are already proven college players so that should help.

But is that enough?

Perhaps they should also:

4. Rethink the recruiting strategy overall.

If Michigan's victory has any positives for Ohio State, it could be confirmation a team can win it all without signing top five recruiting classes every year.

The main reason Ohio State had been the only northern team to win the national championship since Michigan did in 1997 is Ohio State is the only one that is in Ohio, still the deepest state in the region for future collegians and NFL players for that matter.

That's an advantage being squandered in recent years even as teams like Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma have scooped up players the Buckeyes either passed on or were slow to go after.

What's especially damaging is skipping over a Power 5 player in Ohio in pursuit of a national prospect of more prominence who ends up going elsewhere, leaving the Buckeyes with a lesser prospect or none at all.

You can't take them all, but another two or three might make a big difference down the line, especially at developmental positions such as the offensive line, defensive line and tight end.

5. Devote more numbers to offensive linemen, defensive linemen and tight ends.

That Michigan's rebound is rooted in committing to those positions is no secret.

Day's predecessor, Urban Meyer, improved recruiting on both lines and saw a dividend, though he did not devote enough numbers to tight end to reflect the growing importance of that position as the era of the true spread offense fades away and more teams see the wisdom in utilizing two-tight end sets.

That has continued under Day, who has also signed more receivers (16) than offensive linemen (15) the past two years.

That helps explain why the starters were a question mark and the reserves nonexistent for the Buckeyes up front this season, and those numbers make even less sense considering the time it takes to develop linemen (and tight ends for that matter).

The defensive line could also be in dire straights this fall if not for the somewhat surprising return of seniors-to-be Jack Sawyer, Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton, but there is still a lack of numbers in the younger classes after Larry Johnson hauled in only two last month.