I-I-I-I-I'm not your steppin' stone.
Despite having been fodder for Penn State (23-17) on Oct. 11 and Miami (45-13) the next week, Cincinnati isn't stammering defiantly about back-to-back games against the nation's top two teams. Of course, the Bearcats aren't pleased with those losses—or with ending the season with a 5-6 record—but don't try to convince them they didn't come out ahead.
"I bring up two words," says Cincinnati AD Carl Meyer in talking about a murderous schedule that also included a Nov. 8 shellacking (52-7) at Auburn. "Visibility and credibility." Like a lot of teams trying to join the college football elite, the Bearcats need more of both. In a century of football, Cincinnati has gone to three bowls, the last in 1950, and since 1976, the Bearcats have been through six ADs and five coaches. But lately folks at Cincinnati have sorted out the bottom line: The only way for the Bearcats to advance from naught to juggernaut is to schedule big-time teams.
Thanks to the Auburn game, Cincinnati made a rare appearance on network TV, and the Penn State game provided the Bearcats far more ink than they're used to. "Probably the game that brought us the most exposure was Penn State," coach Dave Currey says. However, because the Bearcats worked out a syndicated deal to show the game in Cincinnati, Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno will also end up winning—as usual—when he recruits in talent-rich southwest Ohio.
Sure, the Bearcats have to go to Penn State five times for every time the Lions come to Cincy. But the guarantees are great—about $100,000 a pop—and the chance for an upset always exists (the Bearcats surprised Penn State 14-3 in 1983). Further, the occasional home game against a biggie is a guaranteed success. Miami drew a Nippert Stadium record 29,546 fans. Playing high-rep teams also aids recruiting. "I came here because I would get a chance to play against the best," says senior running back Reggie Taylor, who's averaging 120.5 yards per game.
Finally, playing No. 1 and No. 2 attracts attention in another way: The press can be counted on to go around collecting quotes from the maulee as to which of the maulers is better. So here we go. Taylor: "It's harder to run against Penn State. They're so disciplined you can't exploit their weaknesses as much." Defensive tackle Bob Leshnak: " Miami's center [Gregg Rakoczy] is the best I've faced. Our line moves a lot, and it gave Penn State problems." Currey: "The only place Miami has a big edge is quarterback. If Penn State can control the ball, it has less chance of beating itself. In a game like this, you've first got to not beat yourself."
Continues Currey, "One I would date, one I would marry." And he would almost happily be beaten by either.