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January 4, 2009
GLENDALE, Ariz. ? The national championship game is three days and three time zones away, but national titles ? good and bad ? may be at stake when Texas and Ohio State meet in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl.
The Longhorns (11-1) cling to scant hopes that an emphatic victory over Ohio State could result in their receiving The Associated Press' version of the national championship.
The Buckeyes (10-2) have been branded with the title of perhaps the nation's most overrated team after absorbing lopsided losses in the past two national title games and falling to USC and Penn State earlier this season. A victory over the Longhorns might help them lose that stigma and perhaps give them renewed respect heading into next season, when possibly as many as seven offensive and seven defensive starters will return.
"You definitely get to make a statement for the next season [with a win]," Ohio State fullback Brandon Smith said. "With the way the BCS is and college football is, if you start off at the top and take care of business, you won't fall too far. I think that is in the back of our minds."
Positioning for next season is important, but it's nothing compared what might be at stake for the Longhorns. Texas was at the center of the season's most controversial issue when the Longhorns fell behind Oklahoma in the BCS standings even though they defeated the Sooners 45-35 on a neutral field in October. But there is a chance that a decisive victory by Texas could influence AP voters to choose Texas their national champion. USC was voted the AP national champion in 2003, and LSU won the BCS championship that season.
"From what I understand, we can [still be national champions]," Texas running back Chris Ogbonnaya said. "I don't know what needs to happen. Right now, our focus is Ohio State and, really, that is all that matters. We can't talk about being in the national championship picture without having a victory against them."
But that doesn't mean they can't be thinking about one.
"Our goal is still there," Longhorns cornerback Ryan Palmer said. "We still can do it if we play well. Our main goal is to get 12 wins, get another bowl win and go out there and have a great performance."
The performance is what coach Mack Brown is focusing on.
"We talk about playing the best we can and then all of the other stuff takes care of itself," he said. "If you start talking about stuff that is at the end, then you probably won't get the results you want.
"What we will do is try to play the best we can play, and we'll end up where we end up."
Who has the edge?
Ohio State run offense vs. Texas run defense
Ohio State pass offense vs. Texas pass defense
Texas run offense vs. Ohio State run defense
Texas pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense
Ohio State special teams vs. Texas special teams
Texas coaches vs. Ohio State coaches
X-factor: A year ago, senior QB Todd Boeckman passed for 2,379 yards and helped Ohio State reach the national championship game. But early this season he was benched in favor of Pryor. There are indications that Boeckman will be used at least to some degree in hopes of giving the Buckeyes' passing game a boost against Texas' soft pass defense.
Texas will win if: McCoy will need to have a strong game. The Longhorns must prove their lofty ranking against the run is because of the strength of their defense and not the weakness of the running games they've faced. If Texas slows Ohio State's running game and forces obvious passing situations, the Buckeyes are in trouble.
Ohio State will win if: History shows that running successfully is the key for the Buckeyes. They rushed for a combined total of just 132 yards and no touchdowns in their two losses, to USC and Penn State. Putting pressure on McCoy will be vital, too.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.