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UC going to Sugar Bowl to play Florida

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With the scoreboard at Fifth Third Arena showing the BCS bowl selection show, the crowd of about 1,000 got to do its fair share of booing. Boo TCU. Boo Boise State. Boo the words that came out of analyst Charles Davis' mouth when he mentioned the Brian Kelly to Notre Dame rumors.

 

But when the screen showed that UC was going to face Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the place went crazy. Players hugged, fans cheered, and offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn couldn't stop shaking hands.

 

This, the team realizes, is a huge opportunity. National TV with a chance to play -and beat - perhaps the most-respected squad in the nation.

 

"'I'm licking my lips," senior receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "I can't wait to get in film. I'm going into film tomorrow now that we know who the opponent is. I'm anxious to get to the film. Nobody is going to pick us to win this game. We understand that. But we know that if we play Bearcats football, we'll be all right."

 

Said senior quarterback Tony Pike: "It's an opportunity we've been looking for. Last year we came up short on the national stage, and that's something we worked hard at. We'll get another shot this year."

 

Brian Kelly thinks about the Sugar Bowl, and he ponders something else - the pageantry of this particular game.

 

"The one thing about the Sugar Bowl is the tradition and history," he said. "The great Alabama-Penn State games and what it conjures up. It's college football. When you're in the Sugar Bowl, it's real. Then the opponent. Come on. Who's a more recognized program in the past five years than Florida? You're playing probably the most recognizable program in the country in the Sugar Bowl."

 

--I asked Pike, Gilyard and Kelly if they thought UC should be playing for the national title. Pike danced around the question, Kelly never really answered, and then there was Gilyard. Of course, he gave me an unequivocal yes. I asked him if he was disappointed the Bearcats weren't playing in it. He said no.

 

"We all wanted to play in the big show," he said. "But we know a couple things had to pan out. On paper, we pan out good. But we're so happy we're in the Sugar Bowl. This is our national championship."

 

After the team returned from Pittsburgh on Saturday, Kelly walked into the suite he owns at 5/3 and turned on the TV to watch the Big 12 championship game, the game that could have landed the Bearcats a shot at the national title.

 

"It was very difficult," Kelly said. "I'm not a big sit-down-and-watch-the-college-game (kind of guy), but after the trip, I came over to the basketball suite and sat there and watched the game. It was the closest proximity to a TV. Obviously, it was a tough one at the end.

 

"We were within one second of playing for a national championship. It's not crazy (for UC) to play for a national championship."

 

--Don't know if you remember, but two spring practices ago, Florida coach Urban Meyer visited a Bearcats practice. Gilyard remembers one specific comment. And it offended him.

 

"The one thing I can remember is him saying this used to be a rinky-dink program. That's the only thing I remember," Gilyard said. "The team knew we weren't a rinky-dink program. That just kind of fueled me."

 

After last season, Kelly traveled to Gainesville and met with Meyer to share some coaching insights.

 

"We shared some ideas about some things," Kelly said. "That's the fraternity of the coaching business. We certainly weren't looking at a matchup with Florida on our regular schedule. We run some similar things offensively. We share some similar ideas in terms of practice. Tim Hinton is very closer to Urban. There will be some close ties. But that won't mean much when the game gets started."

 

For Meyer, though, he came away impressed.

 

"Watching practice, I walked away saying that this was an SEC-caliber team," he said.

 

--If you were wondering which coach gave the Bearcats his No. 1 vote, it was Kelly. He voted UC No. 1. Then Alabama, Texas, TCU and Florida.

 

"Hey, 12-0. show me why we can't be No. 1," Kelly said. "We won all of our games. We can only play the games they scheduled. After watching Nebraska-Texas last night, we're as good as anybody."

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