Undisputed But Not Undoubted

Coming off a national championship season, the Ohio State Buckeyes are looking to keep a chip on their shoulder.

Practicing at an indoor facility draped in championship banners and located a stone’s throw from the street now known as Undisputed Way, the Ohio State football team hasn’t heard much from detractors during the last two months.

The Buckeyes return three accomplished quarterbacks and a host of starters at other positions. They lost no underclassmen to the NFL Draft, the first time that’s happened since LSU sent no third-year players to the 2008 Draft. In virtually every “way too early” top 25 released after the CFP National Championship, Ohio State's name topped the list.

The talent pool is, amazingly, possibly deeper on the underclassmen side of the divide thanks to a treasure trove of talent in the classes of 2013 and 2014. Urban Meyer, the man charged with overseeing the development of that raw talent, is coming off one of the most impressive coaching jobs in the history of the sport, despite the disagreement voiced by his peers in early December.

In short, it’s a pretty good time to be a Buckeye. This is where Meyer shines, though. He’s a master motivator known to exploit any perceived slight in an effort to unite his players behind a common cause. That effort is clearly in full effect as the Buckeyes plan to defend their national championship.

When asked how the Buckeyes planned to keep a chip on their shoulder, senior linebacker Joshua Perry referenced an undetermined chorus of naysayers who would fuel the team.

“We know that people are always going to doubt us, so that’s going to be a big thing for us,” he said. We know that we have a target on our back and that people are going to doubt us. We’ve still got something to prove every day that we go out there.”

Naturally, that response led to the following question: what about the reigning national champions and likely preseason No. 1 team creates doubt in people?

“It’s just the nature of the game and the nature of being in the position that we are in. We’re one of those teams that has a great tradition, we’ve been good in the past, but there is always that little bit of doubt. People want to talk about maybe the Big Ten conference is this or that or the other. And can Ohio State really do it again? Maybe it was a fluke that all those players came together the way they did. They had really good senior leadership, but those guys aren’t there anymore.”

Senior left tackle Taylor Decker followed Perry at the podium and tried to offer his own explanation for why Ohio State might be doubted.

“I can see why there are reasons people could doubt us, not that I believe in those,” he said. “We did lose players who were vital to that team last year. It’s kind of scary, a team coming off a big season like we did, to have a letdown because you don’t want guys to think they’ve arrived or be entitled to winning games.”

If you’re wondering why Ohio State players might offer up reasons to doubt them – albeit before dismissing them – look no further than Perry’s answer about the emotional impact of having people say something can’t be done.

“I love that part of the game, honestly,” he said. “Especially at a place like this where we know how good we can be. It gives you a little extra energy. It wouldn’t be as fun if everybody was always cheering you on all the time. You kind of need those doubters to give you a little bit of that extra edge.”

So make no mistake. The defending national champions will find a way to be questioned and doubted, whether it comes from opposing fans, Meyer or the players themselves. It’s the way they want it.

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