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Cincinnati still fighting respect battle

Some teams have established enough name recognition to merit inclusion in the preseason rankings just about every other year. Other programs earn preseason spots based on what they accomplished the year before.

And then there is Cincinnati.

It seems that no matter what the Bearcats do, they're not going to get much praise before the year starts. They won 10 games in 2007 but weren't ranked to start 2008. They won 11 games and a Big East title in 2008 but stayed out of the preseason polls last summer. In 2009, they finished the regular season 12-0 and No. 3 in the BCS standings, yet they're nowhere to be found in either major poll right now.

"The respect part," running back Isaiah Pead says, "is always an issue."

Only one other team has gone to back-to-back BCS games and failed to garner a preseason ranking the following year. That was Notre Dame in 2007. Like Cincinnati, the Irish didn't play well in their BCS games. They were outscored 75-34 in the two games, while the Bearcats have been outscored 71-31. Both teams also were beaten by 27 points against a SEC team in the Sugar Bowl in the second BCS appearance (Notre Dame to LSU, Cincinnati to Florida).

The Bearcats didn't really care about history. They figured no one would give them props again this year despite their 18-game regular-season winning streak.

"We don't really expect anything different," linebacker JK Schaffer said. "Any time we lose, people go ahead and say we're not going to be back this year. That definitely puts a chip on our shoulder, because year in and year out, they keep forgetting about us. We have to go out and prove we haven't gone away and that we're not going to anytime soon."

First-year coach Butch Jones says he doesn't really play up the lack-of-respect angle as motivation. This kind of fits his theme of 2010 being a new year and the team finding a new identity anyway. And besides, Cincinnati can show everyone what it's made of with a stern test right out of the gates.

Some reward for back-to-back Big East titles. Jones will make his debut at Fresno State on Saturday night as the Bulldogs look to hang another BCS scalp on their wall. The Bearcats needed a late defensive stop to turn back Fresno 28-20 at home last year.

It's also a cross-country trip with a 10 p.m. ET kickoff time. Luckily, Cincinnati has gone to such hostile environments before.

Last season, they opened the season at Rutgers and won before a record crowd in the Scarlet Knights' newly-expanded stadium. Later in September, they flew to Oregon State and won there, too.

Jones has his own experience with preparing for an opener out West. He took Central Michigan to Arizona to lift the lid on 2009 (the Chippewas lost 19-6).

"The great thing about our players is they expect to win and they've been in these situations," Jones said.

Cincinnati will probably get more attention for losing this week than it would by beating Fresno State. But if the Bearcats win on Saturday, that's a sign that this team definitely deserves more respect than it has received.

"It kind of bothers you," Pead said. "But at the same time, whether you're unranked or ranked number one, you've got to go play ball. And that's what we're going to do."