Ever since last season's loss in the BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State has been cast in a less-than-desirable light. Critics have said that the drubbing suffered at the hands of the Florida Gators showed an OSU team that was too fat, too slow and physically unable to keep pace with a fast team from the Southeastern Conference.
Throughout the 2007 season, the Buckeyes have talked about how much drive they have taken from that loss and how eager they were to resurrect their honor after being humbled on the nation's biggest stage.
But now that the opportunity is on their doorstep, those same Buckeyes are insisting that it does not matter what happened last season.
"I think earlier in the offseason that's something that motivated (us), but now this is a totally different team from last year so those comments really don't affect us too much this year," junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "The national championship last year was a motivation this year for us to get back there. Now that we're here, it doesn't matter who we play."
Regardless of that sentiment, the game against Louisiana State could be one of the biggest risk/reward situations the Buckeyes have faced in recent memory. A victory could help erase the painful memories from last season's lone loss and cement OSU as a national dynasty and a perennial contender for the title.
But a second consecutive loss to a hypothetically quicker and more powerful SEC team would relegate the Buckeyes to Buffalo Bills status, circa the early 1990s.
Heading into this year's title game, OSU is 0-8 against SEC teams in bowl games.
"I don't get into any of the conference things, but we know LSU's a great team and we'll be ready for them," senior captain Kirk Barton said. "We're going to have a great couple weeks of bowl practice and we're excited to get down there."
That sentiment has flowed downhill, emanating from head coach Jim Tressel.
"I think the thing that we wanted was to be the Big Ten champion and see if we could earn our way back into the BCS title game," he said. "We weren't getting quite that particular about who we'd like to play and for what reason. I guess the side I come on that is I'm proud of our guys positioning themselves to be in the championship game."
Although they were mostly denying it after being selected to play in the title game, the Buckeyes feel last year's loss has allowed them to thrive in an underdog role throughout the season. Following the loss to Florida, the Buckeyes were tasked with replacing players at each of the skill positions on offense as well as a few key cogs on defense.
All those distractions have served to spur OSU to achieve great things, senior captain Dionte Johnson said.
"We've had the underdog mentality all year," he said. "That's the most important thing. People continue to try and compare it to last year and make it into an SEC revenge thing, but this is a team that's been believing in each other each and every day, each and every week. People are going to carry that on and we're going to continue to do that."
However, all the good vibes, hard work and motivation the team has received from the 41-14 loss to Florida one season ago could turn out to be largely for naught should the Buckeyes suffer a similar fate this season.
But mention that statement to the Buckeyes, and you will likely get a response similar to the one given by junior linebacker James Laurinaitis.
"We're just a different team with different guys on here," he said. "We had some tremendous players last year, but we have some tremendous players filling in. You can't really say. We'll see on the seventh."