Ohio State has some opponents on the Big Ten schedule capable of pulling an upset — a Week 2 trip to Penn State could be a potential slip up — but the biggest thing standing between the Buckeyes and a run at a conference and national title may come down to avoiding a Covid outbreak.
There have been issues across college football for the conferences that have already started, with numerous games being postponed and some key players having to sit out.
At Florida, 25 players have reportedly tested positive including head coach Dan Mullen and the Gators’ game against LSU was forced to be postponed last weekend.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has said many times that he is bracing for a potential virus problem for his team.
“An outbreak can happen at any time,” he said Tuesday in a virtual press conference. “It’s an ongoing process. We still have two more months of it. That’s the way we have to look at it. It’s not a week-to-week thing. It’s all the way to January. We might be good for two or three weeks, four weeks, five weeks and then all of a sudden we stub our toe and have an outbreak and we’re going to lose games. We can’t afford to do that. It’s an ongoing deal. It’s going to go on for a while. We have to continue to be vigilant in that area. We can’t get fatigued with following all the protocols and doing everything we have to do and making all the sacrifices we have made.”
In order to get the Big Ten presidents to agree to reinstate football after they originally voted to cancel it, a committee of health professionals offered an aggressive testing system and an extensive list of protocols.
The Big Ten has the most stringent return policy of any conference in college football, forcing any player that tests positive to sit out three weeks before returning to action.
With only eight games on the schedule, that means a player would have to sit out nearly half the season.
On paper, Ohio State is the most talented and deepest team in the Big Ten, but a virus outbreak could be a big equalizer.
Imagine if Justin Fields tested positive and the starting quarterback became either a true freshman (Jack Miller or C.J. Stroud) or a rarely-used veteran like Gunnar Hoak for three games. That would suddenly make Ohio State’s offense much less intimidating.
Day and his team are very aware of the potential ramifications of a rash of positive tests. The OSU coach has said some members of his coaching staff have not been staying at their homes out of precaution and his players are constantly reminded of the importance of adhering to virus protocols.
“It’s an emphasis every single day,” said Day. “I’ve made it my vow to the players that I will make sure I bring it up every single day. We talk about it every single day because it’s that important. Now, does that take away from other things? I don’t know, maybe it does. But I know there’s nothing more important than having a full, healthy team, and I am proud of the way the guys have worked through this time.”