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One big distraction

Texas' focus on Ohio State, not Oklahoma struggles

Posted: Thursday July 7, 2005 7:05PM; Updated: Thursday July 7, 2005 8:31PM
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Vince Young
Beating Ohio State could be a springboard for Vince Young and Texas, but Oklahoma is still the monkey on the Longhorns' back.
John W. McDonough/SI

1 ) Is it true that the Texas Longhorns are already salivating over their Sept. 10 trip to Ohio State?

Who wouldn't? Rare is the early-season intersectional matchup that will define the first half of the year like this night game on the banks of the Olentangy River in Columbus. I was in Austin recently as part of my reporting on a feature story for Sports Illustrated's college football preview issue, due out in August. I talked to a bunch of Longhorns, gathered for nightly workouts on the 'Horns' practice fields in oppressive heat underneath I-35, at the behest of senior defensive tackle Rodrique Wright and redshirt junior quarterback Vince Young. Faces lit up when I talked about the Ohio State game.

"I've been hearing about that stadium," said tailback Selvin Young, the heir to Cedric Benson. "What's it like, man? I heard it's huge, noisy. I can't wait to get up there."

2) Is this a good thing, looking ahead to an unfamiliar target like this in June and July?

For Texas, I think it's a great thing. First of all, Mack Brown's Longhorns will go into Columbus with far less to lose than in your typical early-season game. I've covered night games on the Ohio State campus in September. I've walked (on game day) across the quads and parking lots that surround the Horseshoe and felt -- and smelled -- the energy that Buckeye fans bring into the stadium. I've heard the roar when Ohio State runs out of the tunnel. And I will say this much: This is a seriously tough game for Texas to win. Not out of the question, because this is college football in September. But it's a tough game in a hostile environment intensified by the timing of the game and the daylong preparation of the fans. (No knock on Ohio State fans here; night games afford any fan base too many hours and too many beers). Smart people don't expect Texas to win the game, ergo the Longhorns have little to lose. That is unless the 'Horns lay the type of egg they usually lay at the Cotton Bowl a month later against Oklahoma. I don't think Young will let that happen. If Texas loses a good game, there are almost four months to recover and climb back into the BCS. If Texas wins, it could be the springboard to a genuine run at the national championship. Most important of all, nobody is asking the Texas players in July about their inability to beat Oklahoma.

3) So playing Ohio State early gets the monkey off Texas's back?

Not a chance. It helps, but the monkey dismounts only when Texas, in order, beats Oklahoma and wins a national championship. Power programs get tagged with reputations. Texas -- rightly or wrongly -- is accused of stockpiling talent and underachieving. There are huge degrees of oversimplification and just plain wrongheadedness in this: Texas has lost a grand total of 11 games in the last five years. By any reasonable standard, the program is immensely successful. But the rep is the rep and it's not going away because the bar is set high in Austin and Brown is a good guy who can't seem to beat Bob Stoops. I was talking this week with former Longhorns' and current Tampa Bay Bucs' quarterback Chris Simms.

"Being a Longhorn, we fight a lot of battles in NFL locker rooms defending our program," Simms told me. "We are constantly defending ourselves. I understand it, because during my time at Texas, the only team that was close to us in talent was Oklahoma. With them, player for player, it was extremely close in talent. I think it's just a matter of time until we get over the hump."

Oklahoma is the hump. Or the monkey. (Maybe there's a metaphor in there worth mixing; got for it). There's a sense in Texas that the Sooners are prime for the picking this year because they're rebuilding at quarterback -- now that Jason White is finally gone -- and still stinging from getting beat by 150 points by USC in the national championship game. Last time I checked, Stoops was still coaching and Adrian Peterson was still playing running back. Texas will have ample opportunity to talk about all of this after Ohio State. And to repeat, it's a good thing to wait.

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