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Bearcats can bolster reputation, earn respect

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The Bearcats fight for a win and national respect for its new coaching staff on Thursday night on ESPN at N.C. State.

CINCINNATI -- Few stages compare to Thursday night football.

When playing on Saturday, a team falls into the shuffle of hundreds of college football highlights and wild plays. Even when displayed no a primetime ESPN stage, three or more other channels allow football options.

The rare Friday night game the Big East fancies find the league competing against the millions of fans heading out for high school football or any other social event.

Thursday is different.

For the Bearcats, this Thursday is very different.

For three hours, every fan in search of football will find its only option on ESPN. They will find a Bearcats team under new management and yet to make the overwhelming impression the old regime was noted for.

Thursday, the nation is watching Butch Jones and the new Bearcats. Reputation, respect and two cents will get UC a bowl of steam and cup of nothing once the ball kicks into the air tonight. But in the world of college football, in the world of persuading 17-year-olds that your school is cool, reputation and respect go a long way. In fact, it can go all the way to a national title.

The disappointment that occurred in the overnight hours in Fresno didn't reach the prime demographic. Yet, 7:45 p.m. on ESPN, competing against Jeopardy! sure will. You better believe it.

"It's all about first impressions," Butch Jones said. "Perception is reality."

Whether right or wrong, the reality is the Bearcats are viewed through a different lens than the those that wore red, white and black to a perfect regular season last year. The high-profile departure of the previous coach assured those headlines. 

Thus far, these Bearcats aren't thrilled with their new reputation. 

"I feel like it's a big opportunity for the team," safety Drew Frey said. "First week of the season we didn't' showcase what we felt we had inside. It is a great night to display what the Cincinnati Bearcats are all about, offensively, defensively and on special teams."

With this unique stage comes a unique opportunity. In order to make those lasting impressions, though, this team can't focus on them.

"We just have to take care of business," Jones said. "Our players have played in big games before. When you are playing with a number of newcomers, everything is new to them. Just because our jersey says Cincinnati doesn't guarantee anything. You get what you earn, you deserve victory."

Inside the iron gates of the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex the Bearcats focused on oiling up the wheels of an offensive machine still grinding through rust during the first two games of the season.

Zach Collaros is one of two Big East quarterbacks without an interception this season, but hasn't equalled the video-game numbers he put up during the four starts of last season that planted promise into the minds of the Bearcats faithful.

An offensive line returning three starters from an offensive line that only allowed 15 sacks last year, opened by letting Collaros hit the ground eight times at Fresno

An electric set of skill position players look to bounce back from consecutive weeks where starter Vidal Hazelton was lost for the season with a knee injury and D.J. Woods endured two turnovers.

Awaiting in Raleigh and beaming across the country on the ESPN satellites is an N.C. State defense ranked atop the ACC.

Opportunity to bolster respect, reputation flow in from all angles.

"The new coaching staff, the new offense, the new everything; it is kind of a pride thing," OL Alex Hoffman said. "We want to show our fans our intentions are great and we really are very close to being great. I think this is a great opportunity for us to showcase that talent; that our offense is great, our O-line, our skill positions and Zach does a great job and we are excited."

There will be no other stage or opportunity quite like this one all season. The Big East continues to suffer national insults and pundits repeat the league's 0-6 record against BCS, MWC and WAC schools. 

But to think any game in the Big East conference would garner the type of respect an out of conference BCS contest does would be wrong. So that leaves tonight and a week from Saturday against Oklahoma.

Cincinnati separated itself from the critics of the conference over recent years and this is a chance to begin that path again.

It's a second chance at a first impression.     

"It's a great opportunity to go out and score a lot of points," Hoffman said, "and show our fans we are a legit team." 

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