COLUMBUS — For just the fifth time ever in the regular season, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame are set to meet on Saturday under the lights in Ohio Stadium.
On Tuesday, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day met with the media for his first game-week press conference of the season to preview the historic matchup between two of the sport’s most storied programs.
So much has already been made of the matchup, both locally and nationally, and the hype has built to a crescendo this week as kickoff approaches. While it would be easy for his players to get caught looking ahead to the game itself, Day said on Tuesday his team’s focus has to remain on its preparation over the next couple of days if Ohio State is going to play well on Saturday.
“I think it’s just to try to have a great day (of practice) today because — and we talk about it all the time — you can plan for the future, but there’s nothing you can do about the game yet,” Day said. “All we can do is have a great day today, focus on the fundamentals, focus on getting better, making sure everything is clean today in practice. Saturday is going to come and go, how prepared are we going to be when it gets here?”
Still, the significance of the matchup isn’t lost on Day. Saturday’s game will mark the first time in program history that Ohio State has opened its season against a top-five opponent. That it will happen against another blue-blood program in one of the game’s most iconic venues is everything that is to be cherished by all who love college football, even if Day may not be able to soak it all in in the moment.
“It’s hard to probably appreciate right now because there is so much going on,” Day said. “But when you think about what an opportunity this is for Saturday night, just getting Notre Dame and Ohio State together, the first game of the year, the 100-year anniversary of The ’Shoe, all of the things combined, what a great opportunity. And that’s what college football is all about, bringing people back and making it special.”
He added the true significance of Saturday’s matchup lies in the moments the players get to experience, moments they’ve probably been imagining and playing out in their minds dating back to their childhoods.
“This is about our players,” he said. “I talked to them the other day about when you’re growing up and you’re 7,8, or 9 years old and you’re watching a game on Saturday night, and then you wake up the next morning on Sunday and you’re playing in the backyard. All of a sudden, you’re taking on the personality of the guys you watched the night before. I told them, ‘That’s going to be you.’ I try to remind them of that every year when we’re playing in environments like this, and that’s the opportunity that is there. That’s why we have to work so hard this week to be at competitive excellence on Saturday.”
Of course, while all the pageantry and tradition that defines the two programs will be on full display on Saturday, only one thing will truly matter to Day and his players until the final score has been settled. With Ohio State being a popular pick to win the national championship, Notre Dame represents a formidable challenge to those lofty expectations right out of the gate.
Notre Dame will also come to Columbus with a significant chip on its collective shoulder thanks to the national odds makers and betters. As of this past weekend, the Irish are massive 17.5-point underdogs against Ohio State, and first-year head coach Marcus Freeman said on Monday he would be sure to use the national slight as motivation during practice this week.
While Notre Dame may be tuning into the national prognosticators for added motivation, however, Day said there is no chance his team gets caught buying into its own hype this week or in the weeks to come after last year’s shortcomings.
“I think coming off of last year, there are no big heads,” Day said. “This team is hungry, this team has been hungry. It’s been gritty, and we have to go win this first game. And they know that, so there are no big heads on this team. We’ve got a lot to prove.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.