GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)—Texas coach Mack Brown has a theory about bowl games.
“If the teams are fairly even, the team that wants to be there the most and has the edge and is more motivated usually wins,” Brown said.
If third-ranked Texas had a choice, it would be in Miami preparing to face Florida for the BCS title. But the Longhorns still have plenty of motivation against No. 10 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night.
Snubbed in their bid for a slot in the Bowl Championship Series title game, the Longhorns (11-1) will try to take their frustrations out on the Buckeyes (10-2), who have made their fifth bowl trip to Arizona since 2002.
“Really, what’s going through our minds is, ‘Let’s just put on a show, basically,”’ Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo said.
The Longhorns finished in a three-way tie atop the rugged Big 12 South and thought their 10-point victory over Oklahoma should have put them in the Big 12 title game. But Oklahoma was declared the division winner on a BCS standings tiebreaker, and the Sooners ripped Missouri in the Big 12 playoff to earn a trip to the national title game.
The Longhorns still have a shot at a national title, but it’s slender.
Either Oklahoma or Florida will claim the BCS national title. But the 65 pollsters who vote in The Associated Press Top 25 are free to select the Longhorns No. 1.
Six AP voters have the Longhorns atop their ballots, and that number could swell if the top-ranked Gators lose and their 50 first-place votes go up for grabs. Some voters might choose Texas because it beat Oklahoma.
It’s a long shot, but it’s the only shot Texas has. The Longhorns will have no shot if they don’t take care of the Buckeyes.
“I don’t know what needs to happen,” Texas tailback Chris Ogbonnaya said. “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.”
The Buckeyes haven’t been in the national title discussion since a 35-3 walloping at USC on Sept. 13. But the Big Ten co-champs say they have plenty of motivation, and, like Texas, it springs from a bad experience in the BCS.
After absorbing lopsided losses to Florida and LSU in the last two BCS title games, the Buckeyes have grown tired of hearing that they are a product of a soft conference and don’t belong among the national elite.
“It would be nice to win that big game,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We will be remembered about how this game comes out. It is just a real fact.”
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel brushed aside suggestions that the Buckeyes might be bored by another trip to Arizona.
“It wasn’t real hard for our guys to be excited when they were named to come to the Fiesta Bowl,” he said. “And then they get to know it will be against Texas, who could be the best team in the country. They wanted to go to work.”
Questions about motivation aside, the Fiesta Bowl presents an interesting clash of conference styles. It pits the freewheeling Big 12, where tackling often seems optional, against the staid, conservative Big Ten.
With Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy directing the attack, the Longhorns average 43.9 points per game. That was fifth in the nation—but only third in the loony Big 12 South, where Oklahoma scores a national-best 54 points per game and Texas Tech averages 44.5 points, fourth in the country.
McCoy has completed 77.6 percent of his passes for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns, and he has thrown seven interceptions. McCoy, a junior who plans to return for his senior year, has also rushed for 576 yards and 10 more scores.
“McCoy is extremely good,” Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. “He’s accurate. The ball is on target. Plus, he has a great chemistry between him and his receivers.”
The Buckeyes allow 13 points per game, seventh in the nation. But last year they brought the nation’s top-rated defense—conceding 10.7 points per game— into the BCS title game and watched LSU romp to a 38-24 victory.
The year before that, in another BCS title game, Florida hung 41 points on the Buckeyes on the same field where Ohio State will face Texas on Monday night.
Ohio State’s best defense might be a clock-controlling offense. The Buckeyes may try to feed the Longhorns a steady diet of tailback Beanie Wells—he runs for 121 yards per game, seventh in the nation—and keep McCoy and Co. off the field. If that doesn’t work, it may be another long January night for the Buckeyes.
“We’ve got some great backs in the Big 12, but not a big back with quick feet and capable of doing what he’s doing,” Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. “You have to pin your ears back and just go. You live for games like this.”