"But our backs aren't against the wall."
"But we will have a big bulls-eye on our chest."
"But we might read our press clippings."
…blah, blah, blah.
High level football players are recruited to Ohio State. Winning isn't that big of a deal because these guys have won their entire lives. They don't know anything besides winning. In fact, I don't think the thrill of winning outweighs the fear of losing. These guys are petrified of losing.
Many great athletes are fueled by the refusal to lose. Tiger Woods knows he is picked to win. He knows he should win. So does Lance Armstrong, the New England Patriots, the New York Yankees, and Michael Jordan. Those athletes/teams get excited when everyone in the stadium is watching them. They want everyone watching them, not their opponent.
I lived through the 98 season in which our team was awarded that preseason billing and it pumped us up. "Hey, today's practice wasn't good enough. We did not look like the best team in the country. We better pick it up and pick it up real quick." Excellence was on our mind because we had no other choice.
We never had the thought creep into our mind of practicing like the #15 team in the country…or "we are not the better team on the field today." Yes, over-confidence is bad, but I think under-confidence is even worse. Confident football players play with more enthusiasm, passion, and speed. I would say enthusiasm, passion, and speed define college football champions.
We lost to Michigan State in 1998 because of blocking and tackling, not because of some jinx. We played even harder that last 16 minutes of that MSU game because we knew we were No. 1 in the country. You NEVER fold a tent when you are No 1. Big expectations make people fight until that last breath because human beings don't like letting people down. We would have lost much sooner in the season if we had the attitude of being a "pretty good" team. Subconsciously players will shut things down quicker if they know they are not good enough…and a poor ranking leads people to that not-good-enough attitude.
Look at the Notre Dame game last year. If AJ or Schlegel or Kudla thought "Wow, ND just put six points on the board real quick on us…maybe we aren't that good," we would have been done. Instead, they thought of the big wins and how good they are. That is what kept them composed and avoided panic. They dug even deeper because they knew what they were capable of.
The Buckeyes don't need to be underdogs to feel motivated. They have a national television audience, a packed stadium, and most importantly big expectations to motivate them. Coach Tressel's teams in Youngstown wore bulls-eyes all the time. And this year's players will work harder and harder knowing someone is aiming at their bulls-eye.