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September 8, 2006

Game of the Week: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas

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Texas coach Mack Brown sounds more like a boxing promoter than a college football coach as he previews Saturday's showdown with top-ranked Ohio State.

So it's only fitting that one of his players seems ready to enter the ring as he discusses the merits of facing a heavyweight opponent so soon.

"When boxers go out, they try to fight the best boxers there are to show themselves that they're the best," Texas running back Selvin Young said. "We get opportunities like this early, and it's fun."

The players aren't the only ones building up the hype for this matchup (8 p.m., ABC) between the top two teams in both major polls. Even the coaches are doing their best Don King impressions.

"There will be a whole lot of really good football players standing around on the field that have won most of the games in their career and expect to win," Brown said. "If both teams play well, it could end up like last year's game and be one of the best games in the history of college football."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel echoed those comments.

"It's an experience I expect our guys will remember forever," Tressel said, "and I'm sure it's one I will remember forever."

Pretty strong words.

Then again, Texas and Ohio State sure lived up to the hype last year. That game ranked among the most exciting of the season, as the Longhorns rallied for a 25-22 victory on Vince Young's 24-yard touchdown pass to Limas Sweed with 2:37 remaining.

Both teams believe the sequel might outdo the original.

The top-ranked Buckeyes feature an explosive offense that includes two Heisman Trophy candidates quarterback Troy Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. The second-ranked Longhorns are the defending national champions and have won 21 consecutive games.

This also marks the first time the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams have faced each other in the regular season since No. 2 Florida State defeated top-ranked Florida 24-21 in 1996.

"I think this is anybody's childhood dream," Texas safety Michael Griffin said. "It's why you come to a place like the University of Texas. Playing big games like this is amazing."

Ohio State could turn that dream into a nightmare.

Although Smith went 5-of-11 for 78 yards and averaged just 2 yards per carry in part-time duty against Texas last year, he has since shown a knack for delivering big-time performances against big-time competition.

Smith closed the 2005 season by going 46-of-65 for a combined 642 yards with three touchdown passes and one touchdown run against Michigan and Notre Dame. Smith directs an offense that has averaged 38 points per game in its last eight outings.

He now faces a Texas secondary that won't have starting cornerback Tarell Brown, who was arrested Monday on misdemeanor drug and weapon charges.

Smith doesn't expect Brown's absence to make much of a difference.

"Texas and a few other schools in the nation have that kind of luxury where they just reload," Smith said. "He's a great player don't get me wrong but I'm sure the guy behind him (Brandon Foster or Ryan Palmer) is not that far off."

Texas proved it could beat a high-powered offense last year when Young's all-world performance lifted the Longhorns to a 41-38 Rose Bowl victory over Southern California.

Then again, having the nation's best quarterback in your huddle can help a team overcome just about anything.

This year, Ohio State has that luxury.

Week 2 Game of the Week: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas
Ohio State running game vs. Texas run defense: Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells each gained at least five yards per carry and scored a touchdown last week, but they could find the going much tougher against Frank Okam and Co. North Texas star tailback Jamario Thomas, who had been gaining 6.7 yards per carry against Big 12 opponents, managed just 38 yards on 14 carries against the Longhorns. Edge: Texas.
Ohio State passing game vs. Texas pass defense: This may be the only matchup in which one team has a clear advantage. Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. connected for touchdowns on Ohio State's first two possessions last week. That combination also should exploit Texas' decimated secondary. Tim Crowder and Brian Robison must put pressure on Smith, who was not sacked last week. Edge: Ohio State.
Texas running game vs. Ohio State run defense: An Ohio State defense with nine new starters allowed Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe to rush for 171 yards on 26 carries. Then again, Wolfe has made a lot of good defenses look bad. This week the Buckeyes have to worry about more than one runner, because Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young both should get plenty of carries. That Texas twosome combined for 121 rushing yards on 26 attempts last week. Edge: Texas.
Texas passing game vs. Ohio State pass defense: Redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy aced his first test last week by throwing three touchdown passes. Sweed the hero of last year's Ohio State game caught two of those touchdowns. But this is a much tougher assignment for the first-year starter. Ohio State's inexperienced secondary looked solid last week and should benefit from a pass rush that produced four sacks against Northern Illinois. Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State special teams vs. Texas special teams: The presence of Ginn makes Ohio State seem like the obvious choice here, but that's not the case. Although the Buckeyes have a tradition of outstanding place-kicking, they missed two field goals last week and haven't selected a full-time kicker out of Aaron Pettrey and Ryan Pretorius. Texas punter/kicker Greg Johnson didn't attempt a field goal last week. Texas' Aaron Ross is almost Ginn's equal as a punt returner. Robison and Michael Griffin have blocked six kicks each to share the Texas school record. Edge: Even.
Ohio State coaches vs. Texas coaches: Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Texas' Mack Brown both have won national championships. Both have proved capable of winning big games. How do we give one staff an edge? Until someone finally ends Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's personal 28-game winning streak he also was defensive coordinator for Auburn's undefeated 2004 team we have to side with the Longhorns. Edge: Texas.
Ohio State will win if: The Buckeyes need to keep their offense flowing the way it has since the midway point of the 2005 season. They also have to make sure they avoid the missed tackles that helped allow Wolfe to run wild last week. Because of their uncertain kicking situation, it also would be a good idea to make sure this doesn't come down to a late field goal.
Texas will win if: The Longhorns better hope their secondary is deep enough to offset the loss of Brown. The best plan involves handing the ball to Charles and Young in hopes that they can keep Smith and Ginn off the field. If the Longhorns control the ball for at least 35 minutes, it could go a long way toward slowing down the Ohio State scoring machine.
X-Factor: Ohio State's seniority on defense.
Much has been made of the inexperienced Ohio State defense, which lost nine starters from last year's team. But it's not as though this defense features a bunch of nervous freshmen. Ohio State's defensive depth chart actually includes six senior starters. Four of those seniors are first-year starters who waited patiently for this chance and are savoring the opportunity to finally make an impact. Strong safety Brandon Mitchell opened his first season as a full-time starter by recording a team-high 10 tackles last week. Fifth-year senior defensive end Jay Richardson stepped into the starting lineup and delivered 2 tackles for loss, including one sack. After spending their entire careers as understudies, how will these first-year senior starters respond to a long-awaited shot at stardom?
Notes: This marks only the second time Texas has played host to a top-ranked team. The seventh-ranked Longhorns defeated top-ranked Southern Methodist 23-20 in 1950. Over the last six seasons, Texas and Ohio State have a combined record of 106-21 for a winning percentage of .835. Texas' 21-game winning streak puts the Longhorns nine away from the school record. Texas won 30 in a row from 1968-70. The Longhorns own a 19-1 record in home night games during Brown's nine-year tenure. The only loss came 23-20 to North Carolina State in 1999, with the Wolfpack converting three blocked punts into 16 points. Ohio State owns a 27-4-1 all-time record against Big 12 opponents, though last year's 25-22 loss marked the first time the Buckeyes had ever faced the Longhorns. This marks the first time Ohio State has played a regular-season game in the state of Texas since defeating SMU 35-7 in 1977. Charles has lost yardage on only eight of his 133 career carries. Pittman has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his last eight games. He is averaging 122 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry during that stretch.
Megargee's pick: Ohio State 27-21
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Ohio State, 21-20
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Ohio State, 31-24
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Ohio State, 21-17
Make your picks on Rivals.com Pick 'Em.

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