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Unbeaten Bearcats appreciate Florida's fame

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

NEW ORLEANS -- There's only one unbeaten team in the Sugar Bowl, and it's not the one everybody's talking about.

Although Cincinnati is 12-0 and the champion of the Big East, the Bearcats have been largely overshadowed by the focus on Tim Tebow's last college game and Urban Meyer's resignation-turned-indefinite leave.

"All the focus should be on Florida," Cincinnati defensive end Alex Daniels said. "They have one of the greatest players to ever play the game and they've got an awesome coach who's going through a problem right now."

"We just feel like it doesn't matter. It's always been like that. We always get overlooked and we don't feel like it's a problem," Daniels added. "There's all this stuff outside of football right now that's the focus anyway. It's not even the game that's being talked about right now. It's health issues, coaching issues."

Indeed, Cincinnati has coaching issues, too, though the Bearcats have had a couple weeks to digest Brian Kelly's departure for Notre Dame and the arrival of new coach Butch Jones, who intends to linger in the background until after the bowl game.

The announcement of Meyer's short-lived resignation from Florida came last Saturday, drowning out Cincinnati's arrival in New Orleans that same day. The Gators (12-1) traveled to the Big Easy the following day, and Meyer said he'd changed his mind and had instead decided to take an indefinite leave of absence while dealing with unspecified health issues.

Cincinnati's leading receiver, Florida native Mardy Gilyard, was not at all bothered by all the fawning over the Gators.

"We only have two BCS appearances in our history, this being the second one," Gilyard said Tuesday. "I mean, Florida ... I can name for days all the great backs that went there, all the great receivers that went there, all the great QBs, the great coaches that have been there. They just have this history that's forever-and-a-day long. It's 100 miles long. So you have to respect that. If you're a fan of football, you have to respect the greats."

Rather than worry about getting their due, Cincinnati players seem to be relishing how all the emerging story lines surrounding this game are generating additional hype.

"There's nowhere to hide from this game and we're just excited to be a part of this," quarterback Tony Pike said. "A lot of the talk has been about Florida and our season's kind of been overshadowed by the coaching changes and everything. This team knows what we've done on the field and that we're a pretty special group."

Gilyard added that he understands why a typical fan would struggle to see Cincinnati in the same league as a Florida team that has won a pair of national titles in the past four years and came within one victory of another trip to the BCS title game this season.

For their part, Florida players say they may be giving Cincinnati more respect than anyone. It starts with Meyer, a Cincinnati graduate and Bearcats fan. Meyer said he watches the Bearcats whenever he can catch them on TV and his players are all familiar with how good Cincinnati has been this season.

Nonetheless, Gators linebacker Ryan Stamper said he can sense the general public still views Florida as a prohibitive favorite.

"I definitely feel like we have more to lose than Cincinnati, because a lot of guys expect us to just kill them," he said.

Both teams remember what happened here a year ago, when Utah came in undefeated and looking for respect, and ripped Alabama in a convincing victory that seemed to surprise everyone but the Utes.

Gilyard saw some parallels between Utah and Cincinnati, a relative newcomer to the BCS with a lot to prove.

"Those Utah players were hungry," Gilyard said. "They came out fast. They came out wide open and ready to go. We've got to keep that in mind and go into this game thinking about that."

The Bearcats made their BCS debut in the Orange Bowl a year ago, losing 20-7 to Virginia Tech.

This season, Cincinnati almost wound up in the BCS national championship game in Pasadena, Calif., but Texas overcame Nebraska's upset bid with a field goal as time expired to win the Big 12 title.

The Bearcats finished third in the BCS standings ahead of unbeaten TCU, meaning Cincinnati likely would have played Alabama had Nebraska hung on.

Nonetheless, beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl would be no small feat for a school that back home has long been overshadowed by Big 10 power Ohio State.

"It would be probably the biggest win in our school history," Gilyard said. "The stage is big. We're going to have fun out there going against those guys."