Bearcats battle for reputation

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CINCINNATI -- Not since the day Butch Jones officially took over the University of Cincinnati football team have the Bearcats looked back.

New coach, new staff, new players, new schemes, new season.

Jones and his team never spoke about the team's current 18-game regular season win streak. Not once.

The focus holds square on the present and future.

That said, JK Schaffer just can't shake this frustrating feeling. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many practices or interviews he endures, the residue of 51-24 lingers. Despite all the accomplishments of the Bearcats back-to-back Big East titles and Sugar Bowl berth, Schaffer can't help but feel a nasty taste still exist from the ugly loss to Florida.

"I have (moved on), but I haven't," Shaffer said. "I am definitely ready to move on."

That can only be accomplished by playing in another game.

The view of this rising program - and even the Big East conference as a whole -- on the national landscape suffered bruising blows with every Tim Tebow touchdown pass. Suddenly, the feel-good story transformed into the butt of jokes.

Armon Binns still feels it. The reputation of this team was sullied in Louisiana. A third consecutive season opening outside the Top 25 further solidified that notion.

"There definitely is a bad taste left in our mouth from last year," Binns said. "Guys are really hungry and we are definitely ready to prove everybody wrong that has doubted us, we are really ready to show them that we are a quality football team and we should be contending with the other top teams."

On the schedule, the Fresno State opener is far from ideal. A new coach in his first game traveling across the country to play in front of a sold-out stadium against on national TV a team returning eight starters who pushed UC as close to defeat as almost any team in the regular season last year. Ugh.

However, a silver lining to the thousands of clouds the Bearcats charter will fly through is the opportunity this game provides.

"We feel like we have an opportunity on the big stage to show the world that we are the real deal," Binns said.

Call it a friendly reminder. The national pundits needed one last year, as well, when the Bearcats opened up the regular season and Rutgers' new stadium in Piscataway, N.J.

Well, 564 yards and 47 points later, the country took notice. UC never stopped reminding them until the Sugar Bowl. Only, at that point, a coalition of voters and national prognosticators were finally compelled to call out the Bearcats.

At seemingly every turn since then, voters seized all opportunities to do so. UC was picked tied for second in the Big East poll. They were left out of the coaches and Top 25. Some rankings placed them as far back as 44.

A Rutgers replica on Saturday would go a long way to restoring any dings the Florida game produced - even if only in the mind these players.

"This is huge," Shaffer said. "This is definitely going to make a huge impact on the rest of the season. And showing the rest of the country that we are still here and we are not going to go away."

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