Butch Jones stood at the podium, as he does every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., and talked about the state the Bearcats season, opponent and a number of players making contributions to this year's team.
I didn't need to ask the question about student and fan attendance for Saturday's game to know that topic would be among the most prominent talking points. I only needed to follow @CoachButchJones on Twitter to know that. More than in any other week in recent memory, Jones, along with the rest of the UC marketing and sports information staff, has been crushing the airwaves and social media bandwidth pumping the need to fill Nippert Stadium on Saturday.
And understandably. The attendance at the Syracuse game drew storylines and with the biggest game of the season in UC's backyard and the chance for a Big East championship hanging in the balance, the players and coaches alike know the home-field advantage can make a difference. Strike that, need to make a difference.
"Our students and our fan base bring an energy," Jones said. "I believe Nippert is one of the great venues in all of college football and we need to take advantage of it. Our students have been outstanding, our fans have been outstanding. Again, I get back to really supporting this football team and having an opportunity to win. Our fans dictate a lot. They help us win. They provide momentum, they provide energy, they provide spark, they provide a great homefield advantage and when you are playing a team as talented as Rutgers you need any advantage you can get."
Jones never will shy away from a challenge and hit the stump again Tuesday stating his ideas of how the program should look. He's not pushing off any responsibility for the way the stands look during games the same way he wouldn't for the way his players look during games.
"First and foremost, I am the caretaker of Cincinnnati football," he said. "And in my opinion, I am reponsible for everything, including getting fans in the seats. I'll do anything and everything to get fans into Nippert."
For now, the Bearcats tickets office has been running contests to give out free student tickets and hoping to bring the same atmosphere that existed for the opener against Pitt and last year vs. NC State. Their even going with the official blackout routine for the game.
"When we see all those people in the stands we get all jacked up," OL Austen Bujnoch said. "It helps out the younger guys, too."
Drawing out fans when competing against pro sports like the Reds and Bengals can be difficult, but particularly as this team makes a run for a fourth Big East championship in five years. As Jones points out, attendance doesn't only affect momentum, but a number of major bowl reps are expected to be on hand for Saturday's game and judging the fans, how many there are and how they interact with the team. The base has made a habit of traveling well for bowl games in recent years and what happens Saturday will go a long way to deciding where that trip destination will be.
"Playing in front of sold out crowds as we continue to grow and elevate this program," he said. "That is one of my visions. And we will get it done. every game at one point in our stage as a football program will be sold out, it's just a matter of time."
Judging by his Twitter feed and marketing meter, he's doing everything in his power for the next one to be Saturday.
--- One thing Jones jumped on was the narrative circulating right now that UC would have been undefeated had Brendon Kay been the starting quarterback from the beginning of the season. Butch will always protect his guys, but he was particularly right on with this one.
It's unfair to Kay or Legaux to go back and state that this team would have beaten Louisville or Toledo had the QB situation been different. Or to assume that Kay would have been able to have the effect Munchie did against VT or Pittsburgh.
"I know how people talk ... what if Brendon Kay would have been playing the whole season?" Jones said. "I'll tell you this, nobody felt that way after Week 3 when Munchie Legaux stood in the pocket with a fierce pass rush from Virginia Tech and threw the ball deep to win the football game. I don't believe in shoudla, coulda, wouldas. Munchie Legaux was 8-3 as a starting quarterback and he's helped us win seven football games."
--- There was no mincing words from the head coach in terms of how he feels about Rutgers:
"They are the most, the most complete football team we have played to date."
"That's as good a defense as we've ever faced."
The numbers support his case. They enter the game ranked fifth in FBS in scoring defense. They are allowing just 13.4 points per game. Since Jones arrived at UC the only time they played a team that finished the year ranked in the Top 5 nationally in defense was 2010 West Virginia. And that team allowed 13.5 points per game. Splitting hairs, yes, but correct nonetheless for Jones.
--- Got to catch up with Brendon Kay, fresh off his breakthrough game and earning the starting nod for Saturday against Rutgers. You'd be hard pressed to meet anybody more laid back than the new UC QB.
He's talked multiple times about needing to calm himself down before he enters games. I'd be interested to see when he's riled up, because the kid looks as relaxed as anybody I've met. He's taken his rise in stride. The stage doesn't look to big for him.
Having his 13 of 21 for 244 yards behind him, preparing for a daunting defense like the Scarlet Knights doesn't seem so difficult.
"All the early jitters and nerves are out of there so it's not really a factor," Kay said. "Last week you go in there with the unexpected a little bit. So, it definitely helps."
The questioning at one point turned to hearing that Louisville lost to Syracuse and the reaction to being placed in the BCS bowl conversation. You got the feeling Kay and the Bearcats aren't too concerned with that big picture right now. Many times you can tell players are only running the company line out there, but with Kay, the response is genuine. With so much on his plate lately, thinking about anything beyond Khaseem Greene and Rutgers hasn't entered his mind.
"I know it get the fans excited and helps out with attendance and all that, but for us it's just an extra motivational factor," he said. "We just got to keep winning, we can't worry about what other people do. It does help, but we can't worry about that stuff because we can't have any affect on it. Either way, we got to go out and we got to play."
--- Sidenote none of you care about nor want to hear about: You know it's a big week when City BBQ breaks out the press conference buffet with cornbread, bbq pork and the gumbo. Huge.
I want to hear from you, so send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments or observations. And let me know if you'll be in attendance at the Rutgers game. Also, please hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr and we'll chat, no big whoop.