Is Cincinnati the best team in Ohio?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

If you're judged by the company you keep, then Cincinnati and Ohio State must be seen as near equals right now.

The Bearcats are ranked No. 14 in the latest AP poll, one spot behind the Buckeyes. And at least one Cincinnati player thinks the best team in the state is the one from the Big East.

"If we ever have to strap it on with them, we're going to win it," running back Isaiah Pead said about the Buckeyes, as quoted by cnati.com.

Head coach Brian Kelly doesn't normally like his players to speak so boldly. But he understands why this sort of thing is on their minds. The Bearcats are the little guy in Ohio, constantly fighting for attention with the big state school.

“I think as long as you're in the state of Ohio and you're not looked at as an equal or partner, you're going to play with a chip on your shoulder,” Kelly said at his news conference Tuesday. “And I'm not saying we should be looked at as an equal or a partner. But our players sense and feel that every day by who they talk to and who they see at the mall and, 'Did you see the Ohio State-USC game?' 'Yeah, did you see our game?'

“So they're going to carry that (chip), and I'm certainly not going to tell them to change the way they think because as a coach, I kind of like that role that we have.”

This same issue came up last year as Cincinnati moved up the rankings and went to the Orange Bowl. But the Bearcats may have an even better team this year, judging from their 3-0 start. Ohio State, meanwhile, is 2-1 after losing to USC and struggling with Navy in the opener.

The two schools aren't scheduled to play until 2012. The chances they would meet in a bowl game are slim at best.

So for now it's just a debate. What do you think? Could Cincinnati beat Ohio State in a head-to-head showdown?