Don't Count Out The Underdog In Title Game

It's an interesting situation for the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes. After ascending to No. 1 in the polls despite not playing in the final two weeks of the season, the Buckeyes are widely regarded as underdogs for their forthcoming contest with Louisiana State. As it turns out, that might not be a bad thing.

Alternative rock radio stations across the country are playing the latest single from Spoon, a band from Texas with a hit song titled "The Underdog." At the end of the third verse, the lyrics read, "You got no fear of the underdog, that's why you will not survive!"

The track could perhaps serve as the theme song for the Ohio State football team as it heads into the BCS National Championship Game against Louisiana State. When the pairing was announced Dec. 2, oddsmakers put the Tigers as 5.5-point favorites.

This comes despite the fact that the Buckeyes are ranked ahead of the Tigers in the final regular-season polls and have just one loss compared to LSU's two losses.

As a result, OSU finds itself as somewhat of an underdog as it heads into the title game. Senior captain Kirk Barton, not one to often mince words, said the team is aware of the public perception.

"We're going to be playing in Louisiana against LSU and against SEC nation," he said. "It's just one of those things where we'll probably end up being the underdog and that's fine with us. We've played in hostile games before. It'll be a lot of fun."

Being cast as the underdog in the national championship game is far from a bad thing, however. Last season, the No. 2 Florida Gators were considered heavy underdogs to the Buckeyes but stunned the nation with a 41-14 victory. Following the 2002 season, the tables were turned when No. 2 OSU shocked No. 1 Miami with a 31-24, double-overtime victory.

Since the institution of the BCS in the 1998 season, the team ranked No. 1 going into the title game is 5-4. However, the top-ranked team has won just one of the last five title games, with USC in 2005 holding that honor.

In the 2004 title game, No. 2 LSU defeated No. 1 Oklahoma, 21-14, giving each of this year's teams a share in that recent string of success enjoyed by the underdogs.

"A lot of teams like to be underdogs because it kind of makes you focus a little bit more and prepare a little harder," senior fullback Tyler Whaley said. "Whether we're underdogs or whatever, we know on past experiences that we need to prepare a certain way and we're all ready to go to work."

Last season, the Buckeyes spent 51 days hearing how they were the nation's top team and how few other teams were worthy of stepping on the field against them. The Onion, a nationally published satirical newspaper, even ran a fake story following OSU's 42-39 victory against Michigan in the final week of the regular season.

"BCS Determines No Team Worthy Of Facing Ohio State In Championship Game," the headline read.

Try as they might, some of the Buckeyes began to buy into the hype.

"I think it did (affect us,)" senior captain Dionte Johnson said. "You hear that you're so great, then we were undefeated so we had no choice but to buy into that. That's why I say this is a completely different team.

"You always want to be the favorite and feel like you're going to win easily, but at the same time that underdog has that fight in them. They have something to prove. We feel like we've been playing that way all year."

This year, the Buckeyes are being viewed as a team that backed into the title game after going 11-1 during the regular season but watching during the final two weeks as team after team ranked ahead of them suffered defeats.

When the dust cleared, OSU had ascended to the No. 1 spot despite not having played a game in two weeks.

Barton took offense to the charge that the Buckeyes had backed into the game, but did so in a diplomatic fashion.

"People can say whatever they want to say," he said. "They're entitled to their opinion. They're obviously a very talented two-loss team because it took six overtimes for them to lose. It's going to be a great matchup. I'm not going to say anything else because I don't want to get in trouble.

"I like to be the underdog a little bit because pretty much everyone on Earth hates us, so that's cool."

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