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September 8, 2006
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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.