AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ It's early September and the national championship won't be decided until January.
Yet, for No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Texas, their title chances could be on the line Saturday night in a rematch of last year's classic in Columbus.
One stumble, one fumble, one blocked kick or incredible catch could change the course of the season for both teams. Again.
Just look at last year when these teams battled back and forth before two late scores gave Texas a 25-22 victory. Ohio State still made it to the Fiesta Bowl, but Texas built on the confidence and momentum from that victory, turning it into an undefeated season capped by a Rose Bowl win over Southern California.
``We made one more play than they did to win the game,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said. ``If we had lost that game, we would not have played for the national championship.''
In an age of cupcake nonconference schedules, that's what makes this game _ in Austin this year _ so dangerous for both teams. A loss drops them back into the pack and looking for outside help to get back into the title chase.
Like this year, the 2005 version was played in the second week and was the most-anticipated nonconference game of the season.
Last season, Vince Young led the No. 2 Longhorns north to face the fourth-ranked Buckeyes. Both teams were loaded with veteran talent and primed for a championship run. A screaming crowd of more than 100,000 at the Horseshoe knew what was at stake.
``I thought it was unbelievable,'' Brown said. ``You couldn't hear at all.''
Against an Ohio State defense that would send more than half its starters to the NFL in a few months, Young was crushed under a pile of Buckeyes on an early run. When he got up, he complimented them on the hard hits.
It was playful trash talk, but likely stunned defenders who thought they had given the quarterback their best shot.
Texas bolted ahead 10-0, then watched quarterback Troy Smith come off the bench to rally the Buckeyes to a 16-13 halftime lead.
That Smith didn't start _ or play more _ has bedeviled Buckeyes fans for a year. Even though he was coming off an NCAA suspension, many thought he should have started over Justin Zwick. But coach Jim Tressel kept rotating the two even though Zwick could manage to lead his team only to one field goal.
The Buckeyes came up with three turnovers in Texas territory and managed only a field goal each time. The biggest surprise was All-American linebacker A.J. Hawk, after an interception, getting taken down by Longhorns freshman tailback Jamaal Charles, who gave up 45 pounds to Hawk.
``That might have been the telling play of the game,'' Brown said afterward. ``If he doesn't tackle him, he may take it back to score.''
Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. returned the second half kickoff across midfield, but the drive stalled again when a sure TD pass bounced off the chest of Ryan Hamby.
Hamby received hate mail from fans after the game, but that's how it went for Ohio State that night.
The Buckeyes were still ahead 22-16 when Young found a groove. On Texas' winning drive, he completed two third-down passes, then hit Limas Sweed in the corner of the end zone with 2:37 to play.
Sweed juggled the ball but held on just as he hit the ground, inbounds by a few inches. The play held up under review and the extra point made it 23-22.
``I keep (seeing) that last play because it was such an unbelievable catch,'' said Buckeyes offensive lineman Kirk Barton, who has watched a tape of the game dozens of times. ``He had like one foot down in the end zone and you're like, 'Is his foot really down?' Then you go back and try to erase it.''
Texas prevented a potential go-ahead field goal with a sack on Zwick that forced him to fumble. The Longhorns capped the night when Smith was tackled in the end zone for a safety for the final points.
When the game was over, the crowd was silenced while the Texas players danced on the field. Their road to the Rose Bowl had just begun.
Ohio State was left looking forward to the rematch _ 12 months away then, only days away now.
Recounting the game this week, Brown called it a ``classic'' and ``one of the best in the history of college football.''
Easy for him to say. He won. The Buckeyes still get a sick feeling when they think of opportunity lost on the field.
``The feeling in the locker room after the Texas game and taking your jersey off, I mean, it's like you got hit by a car,'' Barton said. ``You're done.''