Cincinnati eyes another Big East title

Most every coach in America designates Thursday night as family night, a time for each staff to spend quality time with their loved ones with game-week preparations nearly complete.

In Butch Jones' home, the television is usually turned on to the college football game of the week.

So yes, he will have his eye on the game this Thursday between Louisville and Rutgers. The ramifications in that game are huge for the Cincinnati Bearcats. And in a strange twist, they actually have to root for cross-state rival Louisville to win -- in order to keep their Big East title hopes alive.

A Rutgers win gives the Scarlet Knights the Big East title outright. But if Louisville wins, all Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) has to do is beat UConn (5-6, 2-4) on Saturday to win at least a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in five seasons. That would be quite an accomplishment for a team that seemed totally out of the league race just two weeks ago, following a loss to Rutgers.

This could very well be Jones' best coaching job to date, given all the seniors he had to replace off last year's 10-3 team. Cincinnati was picked to finish fourth in the Big East preseason media poll.

"It’s a tribute to perseverance and resiliency," Jones said. "This team has great resolve and you’d be hard pressed to find another football program in the country that had to replace the productivity with a very good senior class last year. Our kids understand the standard and expectations in our program. So I’m just proud of our seniors, because they’ve done a great job of leading. When you have 65 first- and second-year players, our players really listen to them, they bought in.

"The only thing we can control is us and the way we prepare and the way we play on Saturday. I don’t want us to put everything on what’s going to happen Thursday night. We have to focus on ourselves and the task at hand, and the only task at hand is Connecticut."

Interestingly enough, Cincinnati and UConn were in nearly the same position at the end of the regular season last year. Cincinnati had a shot at a share of the Big East title; UConn had a shot at bowl eligibility. The Bearcats jumped out to a 28-6 halftime lead before holding off a furious Huskies rally and winning 35-27.

The only difference is this year, Cincinnati will know going into the game whether it has a shot at a league title.

"In the world of media and the world of television, I think our kids understand the expectations," Jones said. "But that’s what I like about our football team this year. They’ve managed their business, so I know they’ll be ready to play regardless of the outcome."