Cincinnati seeks defining bowl victory

NEW ORLEANS -- It's been one weird week leading up to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as almost all of the talk has centered around coaches coming and going, how the two teams are dealing with that and even 911 calls.

Hardly anybody, it seems, wants to talk about the actual game between Florida and Cincinnati. The sideshow has become the main show.

Truth is, though, this game could be remembered for a lot more in future years if the Bearcats manage to win it. It would have to go down as the biggest win in school history, and probably the best by the Big East since the current league format began in 2005.

"This is a huge opportunity for us to show that we're legitimate, because a lot of people don't think that we are," Cincinnati linebacker JK Schaffer said.

Cincinnati's credentials are tough to ignore, since the team is 12-0, ranked third in the BCS standings and has won two straight Big East titles. Still, there is always going to be some doubt about whether the Big East's best can match the cream of the crop of the SEC.

No program in college football has done more the past four years than Florida, which has won two of the past three BCS titles. The Gators were ranked No. 1 nearly all season before losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game. West Virginia's BCS wins over Georgia and Oklahoma gave the Big East a major shot in the arm; this victory would be bigger than both of those.

"We feel we can play against anybody but most times we don't get credit for that," Bearcats receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "This will show the nation that the Bearcats and the Big East can play ball just like the Big Ten, the Big 12, the SEC and the ACC. We play good ball in our conference, and we just want to showcase that to the best of our ability."

Outside of the title game, the outcome of a BCS game doesn't always matter too much. Just getting there is the key. Louisville won the 2007 Orange Bowl and saw its program tumble. Cincinnati lost last year's Orange Bowl and went 12-0 this year.

But this game could have lasting ramifications for the Bearcats, who lost the architect of their recent success when Brian Kelly went to Notre Dame. They do not want to lose their momentum like Louisville did with its coaching transition.

"If we beat Florida, that would really put us up on the map as far as recruiting and getting larger support from the Cincinnati fan base," linebacker Craig Carey said. "Top recruits in the country would start opening their eyes to Cincinnati."

And then there's history. A win would make the Bearcats 13-0, and for the rest of their lives the players could at least make the argument that they were the best team in college football in 2009.

"I'd love to have that conversation Friday night if we can pull it off," quarterback Tony Pike said.

By then maybe the talk around the Sugar Bowl will be back to the actual game.