COLUMBUS - Most eyes in this football-crazed city are focused on Ohio State's Sept. 10 showdown with Texas.
All-America linebacker A.J. Hawk has listened to the Buckeyes fans squawk for a few months now.
He knows as the marquee matchup gets closer, the chatter is going to intensify.
Hawk and his teammates would like nothing better than to hook the 'Horns in the Horseshoe in one of college football's early season heavyweight battles.
But before Ohio State can work on its Texas two-step, the Buckeyes first must dance their way past Miami (Ohio) in the Sept. 3 opener.
"There's a huge buzz all around campus for the season to start, but the Texas game is getting a lot of talk," Hawk said. "Obviously, when everyone is talking about it, it's hard not to have it in the back of your mind.
"But then you remember Miami is the opening game. That's really the only game we should be thinking about right now."
It's easy for the fans and media to shrug off an almost-certain gimme win against Miami and fast-forward to Texas.
The RedHawks are picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference's East Division, behind Bowling Green.
The Longhorns have been ranked as high as second in the preseason polls by several publications, and they are expected to contend for their first national championship in 36 years.
Miami doesn't have a quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger anymore, but Texas does have a superb, scrambling, junior signal-caller in Vince Young, who could give Ohio State's defense fits.
"It's going to be a huge test for us, and I think it will really be a test for the Big Ten Conference," Hawk said. "We're representing the Big Ten against the Big 12. We don't want to disappoint people. I'm sure a lot of teams in the Big Ten are rooting for us to win that one, just because it would look good for the Big Ten."
Although USC quarterback Matt Leinart is the clear favorite to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner this fall, Young is a close second, thanks to his epic performance against Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Young, the college version of Michael Vick, rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 180 more and another score in the Longhorns' one-point victory over the Wolverines in early January.
In less than two seasons as the Texas starter, Young has passed for more than 3,000 yards, rushed for more than 2,000 and accounted for 43 touchdowns.
"He makes a lot of plays, even when there's nothing there," Hawk said. "In the Rose Bowl, he played unbelievable. Hopefully, we won't let him get out and run around like he did against Michigan.
"You can't give him much space; you have to contain him. Once he gets in the open field, he's like Ted Ginn, he can make big plays."
No doubt, the Ohio State-Texas game will be a terrific early season test involving two Top 10 teams.
The stakes will be higher than a seat in the last row at Ohio Stadium, since a loss could scuttle either team's national championship hopes after just two games.
It's pretty easy to understand why the Buckeye Nation is so focused on Sept. 10.
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