NEW ORLEANS — Cincinnati is used to being overlooked.
The No. 4 AP/No. 3 BCS Bearcats (12-0) weren’t ranked in the preseason AP poll and were eighth among teams receiving votes (effectively putting them 33rd).
The media picked UC to finish third in the Big East Conference in the preseason poll, and Cincinnati isn’t even the college football program most associated with the state of Ohio (Ohio State).
Even after an undefeated season and a second straight conference title, most of the attention before Friday’s Sugar Bowl has been on the No. 5 Gators (12-1).
That doesn’t seem to bother the Bearcats.
“All the attention should be on Florida this week. They’ve got one of the greatest players ever to play the game,” Cincinnati defensive end Alex Daniels said. “They’ve got an awesome coach that’s going through a problem right now. We just feel like it doesn’t matter because we still have to play on Friday. It’s always like that for us — every week. We always get overlooked, so we really don’t feel like that’s a problem.”
Last year, the Bearcats were overshadowed by the bright lights of South Beach after earning the program’s first-ever BCS bowl berth. Cincinnati fell 20-7 to Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.
“Everything was brand new to us last year. We were in Miami. We were in South Beach. Everything was just so flashy and so fast,” senior wide receiver Mardy Gilyard said. “We were really caught up in the city itself and the whole atmosphere of being at a BCS bowl. Now these guys are doing what the coaches tried to get us to look at last year — treat this game like a regular game.”
That loss became a rallying cry for UC, and the team hasn’t lost since.
“The Orange Bowl has stayed with this entire football team for a year now,” passing game coordinator Charley Molnar said. “As good as last season was for us, that performance has left a bad taste in our mouth and a really bad memory from last season.”
Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper said he can understand why many outsiders are overlooking Cincinnati, although him and his teammates have said they’re not.
“A lot of people feel like we were the No. 1 team and pretty much should’ve gone to the national championship and now we’re going to the Sugar Bowl playing Cincinnati,” Stamper said. “A lot of people think we’re going to overmatch the team.
“I definitely feel like we have more to lose than Cincinnati. A lot of guys think we should just come out here and just kill them.”
Stamper admitted he doesn’t know much about the Big East, besides having a few friends who attend South Florida. He also agreed with the notion that Southeastern Conference teams play their toughest games in league play.
The conference that is home to the last three BCS National Championships went 13-4 in bowl games the last two years. So far this season SEC teams are 1-1 with eight contests still to be played entering Wednesday.
“I definitely take pride during bowl season,” Stamper said. “I want all the SEC teams to show how dominant a conference we are.”
Still, despite the majority of the attention being on the Gators leading up to the game, the Bearcats are looking forward to Friday night for a chance to showcase themselves with everyone watching.
“We don’t get caught up in what’s going on with (Tim) Tebow and all that,” Gilyard said. “It’s Tony Pike’s last game for me. It’s Mardy Gilyard’s last game for me. It’s the Bearcats’ seniors last game for me.
“The Sugar Bowl is a big show. It’d be probably the biggest win in our school history.”