COLUMBUS, Ohio — Offensive tackle Taylor Decker doesn’t believe that Ohio State is an underdog to Oregon in the national championship game on Monday.
In fact, Decker refuses to recognize that anything so outlandish is even possible.
“We are not an underdog,” a clearly agitated Decker said. “Ohio State is never going to be an underdog, and that is just how it is.
The Buckeyes take the underdog label personally, privately and sometimes publicly seething while awaiting a chance to prove people wrong in a third consecutive game — the third of four games this season Ohio State will play as an underdog.
Wisconsin was favored against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game. That one turned into a 59-0 blowout win for Ohio State. Then Alabama was favored to win the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day against the Buckeyes. Ohio State came out on top 42-35.
It’s been a driving force all season for Ohio State: Somebody puts them down or praises an opponent and next thing you know, the Buckeyes are celebrating when they leave the field.
That was the case in their biggest win of the regular season, a 12-point win at No. 8 Michigan State on Nov. 8.
“Everyone chose us to lose. We took that to heart. We went out there and played,” said Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. “It was a good thing to carry over throughout the rest of the season.”
The Buckeyes, like Oregon a winner in 13 of 14 games, have won a nation’s best 12 games in a row since a dismal 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in its second game.
So being the underdog again on Monday — even after its upending of the No. 1 Crimson Tide on Jan. 1, makes most of the Buckeyes angry.
“Shocker. That’s a shock that we’re the underdogs again even after we beat the No. 1 team in the nation,” said linebacker Darron Lee. “But, hey, whatever.”
Safety Tyvis Powell also bristles at the mention of the ‘u’ word.
“We still don’t get the respect that we deserve,” he said. “I’ve seen some things on the Internet where, like, 66 percent of the world is picking Oregon. I mean I understand why, everybody sees Oregon and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow.’ But it’s just motivation to come out here and make sure we get the job done.”
–Darron Lee, OSU LB
Others are disinterested in what others say or think.
“I don’t care if we’re the underdogs or favorites,” quarterback Cardale Jones said. “We’re going to go out there and play like it’s the last game of the season.”
Because, well, it is the last game of the season — with the first CFP playoff title riding on the outcome.
Bell said being pegged as an underdog often motivates elite teams and gives them a psychological edge.
“Bowl games in particular, underdogs have an advantage because they have a significant leadup time to the bowl game in which they’re told they’re not supposed to win,” Bell said.
Coach Urban Meyer said he may conjure up the underdog label to fire up his team, if need be.
“I don’t, like, pull out my ‘underdog script’ that we have in my file,” he said, tongue in cheek. “It’s what kind of team you’ve got and who you’re playing. Since I’ve been a head coach, we’ve gone berserk with it a few times and there’s other times — this last one [against Alabama] — we didn’t really play it up much.”
Several of the Buckeyes said they welcomed being an underdog. After all, it’s easier to surprise your opponent (and the experts) that way.
“It’s kind of an unsaid feeling, a vibe that we all get. It kind of goes to the hunger we have as a team,” wide receiver Evan Spencer said. “Them putting us as underdogs? Let ’em, I don’t care. We play so well as underdogs, I don’t really care what they predict the score to be because I know what we’re going to go out there and do. Let’s go play ball.”