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Magnitude of matchup is monster



Published: Sat, September 9, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



In college football circles for the early season, it's huge.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Ohio State vs. Texas would be a big game any time, any year.

Plop it in early September, make it No. 1 vs. No. 2, and mix in that Texas beat the Buckeyes on the way to the national championship last season and you've got one big-time early fall blockbuster.

Oh, yeah. Don't forget the Heisman talk for OSU quarterback Troy Smith, new Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the element of the rematch and prime time.

Special game

"Ohio State is a special game," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Our guys have been talking about it since we left the Horseshoe last year."

Texas kick-started its run to the national championship with a 25-22 win in Columbus last year. The loss bumped the Buckeyes into the pack and created a season of frustration for a team that had title hopes of its own.

In an age of cupcake out-of-conference schedules, that's what makes this game so dangerous for both teams. The loser risks dropping out of the title chase just as the season's begun.

"It's a risk-reward game," Brown said. "Last year we were rewarded for winning right at the end. It was tough for them because they had a good enough team maybe to win the national championship."

For college football fans, it's a doozy.

Buckeye players say tonight isn't about revenge. But it sure would be sweet to knock the 'Horns off their perch.

"This game means everything for the season," Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton said. "Our goal is to make it to the national title game, and you have to win it all to get there."

Significance of rankings

This is the first regular season matchup of the top two teams in the AP rankings since 1996. And it's the first time a No. 1 has visited Austin since SMU in 1950.

And while this may be the first 1-2 rodeo in Austin, the Longhorns can lean on their experience in more than a few big games the last two seasons.

Texas (1-0) has won 21 straight games, three against teams in the top 10. With the last season's Rose Bowl win over Southern California, the Longhorns will face their second top-ranked opponent in three games against Ohio State (1-0).

Unlike last year's game in Columbus and the Rose Bowl -- practically in USC's backyard -- this one comes in a city and stadium full of burnt-orange fans singing "The Eyes of Texas."

"It's going to be loud," Ohio State guard T.J. Downing said. "I know those fans are going to be nuts."

Last year, it was quarterback Vince Young leading Texas. Had he returned this season instead of leaving for the NFL, it's likely the Longhorns would be No. 1 right now and the Buckeyes No. 2.

Defense pushed around

Ohio State lost nine starters off last year's dominating unit, and the new defense got pushed around a bit in a 35-12 win over Northern Illinois.

Offensively, Ohio State has a pair of Heisman hopefuls in Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr.

Texas kept Ginn mostly in check last year (two catches for 9 yards), yet Brown compares him to last season's Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush.

"Same guy," Brown said. "He absolutely scares you to death. Anywhere on the field, he can change the game. Troy Smith does what Vince Young did for us. He's a senior, he's a leader. He can throw and make plays with his feet."

Sports editor Rob Todor will be in Texas Saturday night for the big game. Read his coverage in Sunday's Vindicator and his blogs during the game at vindy.com.




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