The biggest game on the Texas schedule comes a month earlier than usual this year. For Ohio State it's two months early. Forget, for now, the Longhorns' annual Red River Shootout with Oklahoma in October and the Buckeyes' traditional season-ending Big Ten showdown with Michigan. This Saturday night sixth-ranked Ohio State, with multithreat sophomore Ted Ginn Jr., welcomes No. 2 Texas, with freak quarterback Vince Young, to Columbus in an epic nonconference matchup. This first-ever meeting between the two schools will define each team's season and derail one challenger to USC's bid for a third national championship. � Texas looked every bit a title contender in winning its opener 60-3 last Saturday in Austin, though it was against a designated, hyphenated sacrificial lamb, Louisiana-Lafayette, a team already emotionally ravaged by the Hurricane Katrina disaster back home (box, page 66). Likewise, the top-ranked Trojans, No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 Florida beat weak opponents by an average margin of 26.7 points. But third-ranked Tennessee needed help from its backup quarterback to get past Alabama-Birmingham (box, page 50), and No. 7 Oklahoma picked up where it left off in last January's Orange Bowl loss to USC: stinking up the joint, this time in a 17-10 home loss to TCU (box, page 47).
So arguably it was sixth-ranked Ohio State that made the biggest statement of the weekend. Cruising past Miami of Ohio 34-14, the mature and disciplined Buckeyes looked as underrated as the Sooners looked overrated. Ohio State committed only two penalties, unheard of in an opener, and its defense allowed the RedHawks all of 48 yards rushing. The Buckeyes have enviable depth at quarterback, perhaps even an unenviable quarterback controversy in the making. With Troy Smith, a hero off the bench last season, serving a two-game NCAA suspension for accepting $500 from a booster last year, fellow junior Justin Zwick completed 17 of 23 passes in less than four quarters of work.
Happy as it made them to see Zwick running the team's new spread offense--have aliens abducted Jim Tressel, Ohio State's normally staid coach, and replaced him with a freewheeling doppelg�nger?--fans were equally cheered by the sight of sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman rushing for 100 yards on 14 carries. He signaled the revival of a ground game that had lost traction since Maurice Clarett left for an ill-fated bid to join the NFL after his freshman season in 2003.
And then there is the Ted factor. One of the fastest, most dangerous players in the nation, Ginn (pronounced with a hard G), a six-foot, 178-pound sophomore flanker, caught five passes for 75 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown, against Miami of Ohio. He carried the ball three times and ran back two punts and one kickoff. A year ago, late in preseason camp, the coaches switched Ginn from cornerback to flanker, and his head was spinning. Recalls Zwick, "He was just trying to get lined up right. [Now] he's the one helping other receivers." Coming off his performance in the last four games of 2004--18 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns, two punts returned for TDs--Ginn had the Longhorns' attention. "We're not going to talk about [ Ohio State]," Longhorns coach Mack Brown told reporters before the team's opener. "I don't want to think about that Teddy Ginn; I'll start losing sleep two weeks early."
The story of how Ginn made it to Ohio State and became a solid B student and an All-America candidate starts with a nightmare, but may end in a dream season for the Buckeyes.
The trauma occurred 10 years ago, but to hear the hurt in Ginn's voice as he tells the story, it might as well have happened yesterday. On his first day of fifth grade at St. Aloysius in the Cleveland suburb of Glenville, Ginn was pulled out of class. There had been a misunderstanding. Yes, he had attended St. Aloysius since first grade, but unbeknownst to him, school officials had informed his parents the previous June that the school no longer had the resources to deal with his learning disability.
So the boy was soon standing on a curb waiting for his father to pick him up, tie knotted, white shirt gleaming in the sun, tears running down his face. He was confused and ashamed.
The road would dip again before it began to rise for Ginn. There was the sixth-grade teacher who called him out in front of a class at Forest Hill Parkway, insisting that he spell a word. "But I couldn't," recalls Ginn. "So he told me, in front of the whole class, that I was going to flip hamburgers my whole life." Finally, in eighth grade, Ginn was placed in a special program that gave him the tools he needed to learn. "Once he was comfortable in the classroom," says his father, Ted Sr., "the real Ted could come out."
The real Ted was determined to make up for lost time. When Glenville High teacher Margaret Robinson had trouble starting a ninth-grade English class because of rowdy students, one child stood up. "We're in here for a reason," said Ginn, looking around. "And I want to learn." By 10th grade he was on such solid footing that he returned to regular classes. Ginn went on to graduate in the top 10% of his class.
The real Ted, it turned out, was also a once-in-a-generation athlete. He had run the 110-meter hurdles in 14.9 seconds and the 400 meters in 52.9--in eighth grade. As a sophomore, Ginn ran the last leg on Glenville's 4�400-relay team at the Adidas national championship meet in 45.2 seconds. A year later he took three firsts at that meet, winning the hurdles in 13.4 seconds and running on two victorious relays.