FILE - This Jan. 12, 2015, file photo shows Ohio State's Cardale Jones holding the championship trophy after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Oregon in Arlington, Texas. The Buckeyes held their first of 15 spring practices on Tu
David J. Phillip, File
March 11, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry says the doubters are out there, questioning and putting down the Buckeyes.

He doesn't name names, but Perry says he's keeping tabs on them.

Many teams create a boogeyman to fabricate an us-against-them mentality. Count the national champs in that group.

Even in the wake of the 42-20 rout of Oregon in January's College Football Playoff title game, Perry and his teammates believe that there are still a lot of observers who think last year's 14-1 championship run was a fluke.

''We have a target on our back and people are going to doubt us,'' Perry said shortly after Ohio State's first spring practice on Tuesday. ''So we still have something to prove every day that we go out there. And it's also a bit of a pride thing, being here and knowing what we've done and then knowing the guys that we have, that we could be special this year.''

So even though the Buckeyes will likely enter the 2015 season as No. 1, even though they return all but eight starters and have a stable full of quality players up and down the roster, they remain worried that people just don't give them their due.

They plan on using that as motivation for the months of workouts ahead.

''I could see why there are reasons that people could doubt us - not that I believe in those,'' said offensive tackle Taylor Decker. ''But we did lose players that 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 to (feel like they're) entitled to winning games.''

The team doesn't want to be overconfident, even as it rides the crest of a 13-game winning streak, has an improving defense and yardage-eating tailback in Ezekiel Elliott. A lot of teams are looking for an elite quarterback - Ohio State has not one, not two, but three.

Of course, two of the three - two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller (shoulder surgery) and last year's first-team all-conference signal-caller J.T. Barrett (recovering from a broken ankle) can't practice this spring. Still, they've got Cardale Jones at the controls. All he did was go 3-0 in his only collegiate starts, looking polished and poised in the Big Ten championship game, national semifinal victory over top-ranked Alabama and the title game.

Coach Urban Meyer isn't worried about inspiring his players just yet. There'll be plenty of time for that before the opener on Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech. Instead, he's trying to develop some depth while simply having each player get better.

''Right now, we're not into the motivation,'' he said. ''It's just about improving. As long as a player or program feels like it's getting better, the motivation is going to be there. We're not trying to win a game yet.''

But on cold mornings, college kids need a reason to slide out of the covers at 7 a.m. and collide with teammates for a couple of hours. So they use perceived slights or potential haters to get pumped up for another dreary day of conditioning. It's only natural.

To break up the monotony, the Buckeyes plan on getting inspired by those who run down the Big Ten, or who wonder if Ohio State can possibly be as good again.

''It wouldn't be as much fun if everybody was just always cheering you on all the time,'' Perry said. ''You kind of need those doubters to give you that little extra edge.''

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