Well, it only took seven weeks for Cincinnati to finally appear in the AP Top 25.
I know what Cincinnati fans are asking. What took so long?
Cincinnati finished in the Top 25 to end last season, and has won a share of the Big East title three of the past four seasons. But that information has seemingly escaped the voters. Despite all that recent success, Cincinnati was one of four ranked teams at the end of 2011 left out of the 2012 preseason Top 25. The others? Baylor, Houston and Southern Miss, teams that do not have the recent pedigree Cincinnati has. Cincinnati has been to two BCS bowls; Baylor, Houston and Southern Miss have been to zero.
So what gives?
I asked coach Butch Jones why the perception about his program has not changed despite its continued success.
"I don’t know," Jones said. "All we can do is work on our body of work. If you just put your head down and keep working on a day-to-day basis, your body of work will talk for itself. We’re still nowhere where we need to be as a football team right now. There's going to be some challenging games down the stretch but I do think it’s great for our conference, the level of quality of teams we have in the Big East. It’s great for our fan base. It’s not where you start, but where you finish. We can’t worry about that."
It is, of course, great for the Big East that No. 21 Cincinnati, No. 20 Rutgers and No. 18 Louisville are all ranked and undefeated. But do you know what would be better for the Big East? For the outside world to realize there is a perennial Top 25 team in this conference now that West Virginia is gone.
Full disclosure: I also have underestimated Cincinnati in my two years on the beat, something I have taken flak for among Bearcats supporters. During Big East media day, Jones' wife reminded me in her good-natured way that JK Schaffer gave me a talking to last season about ranking Cincinnati so low in my preseason power rankings. She warned me not to do it again.
Oops. I did it again.
Here is what I and the rest of the country should have realized: Cincinnati has carried the Top 25 torch among the trio currently ranked, finishing in the AP rankings four of the past five years. It is obvious that Cincinnati just reloads and does not rebuild, and has a darn good coach in Jones, a man players respect and want to play all out for every week.
As for the bigger point on national perception: More traditional powers like Florida and Texas finished outside the Top 25 last season. But lo and behold they were ranked going into 2012.
In the end, that is what much of this comes down to. Recognized national powers from bigger conferences get the benefit of the doubt. Newcomers to weaker conferences have to prove themselves every single season. Cincinnati is relatively new to the national scene, comparatively speaking. So it takes time to burn yourself into the national consciousness.
But how long should it take? That is the bigger question that has to be addressed. Jones, however, is not biting on that one.
"We’ve got more important things to worry about," Jones said. "We have to worry about Fordham and continuing to be a better football team. We don’t worry about that, we just worry about our team getting better each and every day."