Buckeyes don't believe they're underdogs
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.
"I know Vegas or ESPN or whatever has us as a 7- or 9-point underdog or something like that but we are not," Decker said, clearly agitated. "We are not an underdog. Ohio State is never going to be an underdog, and that is just how it is."
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas have the Ducks as a 6 1/2-point favorite, a spread driven up from an initial straight-up pick by bettors backing Oregon. Many TV pundits also like Oregon to grab the inaugural playoff crown.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes take it 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 over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers did not cover the 3 1/2-point spread, however, losing 59-0. Then, Alabama was an 8-point favorite 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 the Buckeyes down or praises an opponent and next thing you know, they are celebrating when they leave the field.
That was the case in their biggest win of the regular season, when they were 3 1/2-point underdogs traveling to No. 8 Michigan State on Nov. 8, then beat the Spartans by 12 points.
"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 starts, have won a nation's best 12 games in a row since a dismal 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in its second game.
They're 9-5 against the spread this year (compared with Oregon at 10-4 against the spread), and face two big elements swaying public perception toward the Ducks in the national championship game, gambling expert R.J. Bell of Pregame.com said.
Oregon is appealing to bettors because it plays fast, scores a lot of points, and just beat a team that hadn't lost in two years, Bell said. Meanwhile, some bettors perceive the Big Ten as a second-rate conference in college football — teams in the conference were underdogs in all 10 bowl games played so far this year before the title game, Bell said.
"It's just very unusual that it would fall this way," Bell said. "It's really a perfect storm of public bias."
It 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."
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.
Since 2000, Ohio State has been an underdog 31 times. It beat the spread 20 times and won 16 of those games outright, 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."