NCF Nation: Dominick Goodman

Posted by's Brian Bennett

National signing day is just a week away now. As teams scramble to fill out their needs and hold on to their commitments, it's a good time to look back at some of the most memorable moments in Big East recruiting over the past five years.

1. Ray Rice spurns Syracuse for Rutgers: The star running back committed to the Orange after his junior season. But after Paul Pasqualoni was fired in late December of 2004, Rice backed out of that pledge and cast his lot with the Scarlet Knights. He went on to become one of the best running backs in Big East history with three spectacular years in Piscataway, while Syracuse struggled offensively during coach Greg Robinson's tenure.

2. The 2004 quarterback coups: Louisville announced itself as a major player when it convinced local schoolboy legend Brian Brohm to stay home instead of going to Notre Dame or Tennessee. Brohm led the Cardinals to an Orange Bowl win his junior year and broke several school records. West Virginia got a quarterback in that class who was less heralded but turned out to be pretty good in his own right. Pat White pulled off a signing day surprise by switching from LSU to the Mountaineers, who told him he could stay under center instead of moving to another position. White ended his career as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NCAA history.

3. Pitt gets real McCoy: Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt found some early success on the recruiting trail, but he really made waves by signing running back LeSean McCoy in 2007. McCoy had been recruited by all the top schools in the country before a senior-year injury prompted him to go to prep school, and then Wannstedt was able to beat out Penn State the following year. McCoy stuck around for only two seasons before bolting for the NFL, but his huge production and star power helped change the fortunes and the image of the program.

4. Cincinnati's super sleepers of '04 and '05: Nobody thought much of Mark Dantonio's first and second recruiting classes. One major recruiting service ranked the 2004 group 80th in the nation, while the following year's class was tied for 94th. But those unheralded recruits included such players as Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, Dominick Goodman, Mardy Gilyard, Terrill Byrd, Trevor Canfield, Connor Barwin and the vast nucleus of a team that would win 21 games in 2007 and 2008, culminating in this season's Big East title and FedEx Orange Bowl berths. Just goes to show you what recruiting rankings are worth.

5. Louisville's 2005 and 2006 disasters: All seemed right in the world for the Cardinals on the field in 2005 and 2006. They were winning lots of games under Bobby Petrino and captured their first Big East title in '06. The recruiting classes Petrino signed were ranked among the highest in school history. But more than half of those two classes never made it to campus, suffered career-ending injuries, transferred or were dismissed for off-the-field transgressions. Several others never lived up to their billing. The program is still paying the price for those recruiting failures, having not reached a bowl game since and facing serious depth issues next season.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Here are seven story lines to keep an eye on during the final two Big East bowls this week, starting with Thursday night's FedEx Orange Bowl:

1. Cincinnati's defense vs. Virginia Tech's running game: It's no real secret what Frank Beamer and the Hokies want to do on offense. They're not going to line up five wide and throw it all over the field. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor may make some plays with his arm, but the strategy is for him and his running backs to pound the ball down Cincinnati's throat. Since 1999, Virginia Tech is 90-8 when outrushing its opponents and 9-20 when being outrushed. If the Bearcats can choke off that running game, the Hokies are going to have a very difficult time finding ways to score.

2. Cincinnati's passing attack vs. Virginia Tech's secondary: While the Bearcats do strive for some balance, they basically are the polar opposite to the Hokies on offense. Coach Brian Kelly's spread attack will feature multiple-wide receiver sets, and quarterback Tony Pike likes to heave it deep. Receivers Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman are the team's top playmakers, though Goodman's effectiveness for this game is questionable since he's recovering from a separated shoulder. It should be a terrific matchup against Tech's talented and hard-hitting defensive backs, led by Victor "Macho" Harris.

3. Special teams in South Florida: Beamer-ball can be boiled down to strong defense plus big special-teams play. The Hokies, of course, are known for their ability to block kicks and make other things happen to provide field-position superiority. But the Bearcats can be pretty special in the kicking game, too. Punter Kevin Huber is an All-American who routinely drills 50-yarders with plenty of hang time, while Gilyard is one of the nation's top return men. You can bet Cincinnati spent extra time preparing its punt-protection unit for this game. Avoiding any costly mistakes in special teams is a must for the Bearcats.

4. Cincinnati's discipline: The Bearcats offense and the Virginia Tech defense is strength vs. strength. Special teams could be a wash as well. So, what, ultimately could be the difference in this game? One thing that's been lost in the excitement of an 11-2 season is that Cincinnati has been a heavily penalized team this year with a minus-5 turnover margin. That's one reason why most of the Bearcats' wins were close shaves. Those kinds of self-inflicted wounds will only get magnified under the glare of the BCS lights and against a fundamentally sound Virginia Tech team.

5. Donald Brown: The nation's leading rusher takes his show to another country as Connecticut travels to Toronto for the International Bowl. Brown will have had nearly a month to rest after a heavy workload this season, and he needs 178 yards to reach 2,000 for the season. Buffalo ranked 83rd in rushing defense this season, but the Bulls have some reason to believe they can at least slow down Brown. They held Pitt's LeSean McCoy to 93 yards early in the season.

6. Darius Butler: UConn's star quarterback missed the final three games with a knee injury. He's expected to be back and near full strength for this bowl game, and the Huskies sure need him. Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy threw for over 3,000 yards and had nine touchdown passes of 30 yards or longer this season. Butler may be able to shut down a portion of the field. And he also brings a dynamic presence on special teams and the occasional offensive snap for a team that struggles to score.

7. Turnovers in Toronto: Connecticut finished even in turnover margin this season, but the Huskies coughed it up too many times in big games. They had 13 turnovers in losses to North Carolina, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. They simply don't have enough firepower to overcome those giveaways. Buffalo, on the flip side, had a plus-15 turnover margin, which was good for eighth-best in the country. If UConn doesn't take care of the ball, it can't count on getting it back from the Bulls.

Jan. 1, 2009, 8:30 p.m. (FOX) 

Cincinnati take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Some people might make this matchup out to be Cincinnati's offense against Virginia Tech's defense, but they would be missing the point.

Yes, the Hokies are as fearsome as ever defensively, ranking seventh in the country in total defense. But the Bearcats have a swift, ball-hawking defense with 10 starting seniors themselves. The two teams feature outstanding secondaries, led by Macho Harris for Virginia Tech and Mike Mickens for Cincinnati, assuming the latter is healthy after late-year knee surgery. And both sides are terrific on special teams.

It's been endlessly documented how Cincinnati overcame all its quarterback issues this season. Virginia Tech had its own issues until Tyrod Taylor stepped up and solidified the position.

The Bearcats have a much better passing attack with quarterback Tony Pike and big-play receivers Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard. But the Hokies are far more effective at running the ball and can use that to control the clock.

The Big East has won three straight BCS games and would like nothing better to defeat one of the three teams (along with Miami and Boston College) that bolted the league for the ACC before the 2005 season. The ACC has lost its last eight BCS games.

Virginia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: One of the first things Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said after winning the ACC title game was the team wanted to represent the ACC well this season at the Orange Bowl -- something they didn't do in last year's 24-21 loss to Kansas. The Hokies are peaking at just the right time, as the freshmen receivers have proven capable of making the offense less one-dimensional, and they're giving quarterback Tyrod Taylor more options. Tailback Darren Evans has also started to catch the ball out of the backfield a bit more, and Beamer has continued to praise freshman Dyrell Roberts, who played well on Saturday against Boston College.

Still, the Hokies don't exactly have a prolific offense and will need their stingy defense against the No. 3 scoring offense in the Big East. Cincinnati has won a school-record 11 games, including six straight, but is making its first BCS appearance in school history. The Bearcats have used five quarterbacks this season, but have had consistent receivers in Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard. The Hokies offensive line will have a tough job protecting Taylor against a defense that led the Big East in sacks this season.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

1. Pat White's curtain call: White has been magical during his four years in a West Virginia uniform. What does he have left up his sleeve for his final home game, especially against a defense that has shut his team down two straight years? This will be worth watching if only to see the lovefest between the Mountaineers fans and perhaps the greatest player in school history.

2. Matt Grothe's decision-making: The South Florida quarterback -- who will soon break White's Big East career yardage record -- has thrown two interceptions in each of his last two games against West Virginia. The Bulls still managed to win those games, but with a less-imposing defense, they may not be able to overcome turnover problems this time around. Or at least that's been the trend this season. Grothe has thrown four interceptions in his team's seven wins this year, while he has nine picks in the four losses.

3. Donald Brown and LeSean McCoy: Two of the finest running backs in the nation -- and possibly two early 2009 Heisman Trophy candidates -- will go head-to-head Saturday as UConn plays host to Pittsburgh. The Huskies and Panthers have almost identical run defenses statistically -- UConn allows 119.6 yards per game on the ground, while Pitt gives up an even 119 -- so the playing field looks balanced. And for those who think Brown got snubbed for the Doak Walker, here's one stat to keep in mind: Iowa's Shonn Greene had 147 yards on 23 carries against Pittsburgh earlier this year.

4. Will Cincinnati be keyed up or lei-ed back? The Bearcats must travel 4,500 miles and adjust to a five-hour time change, all to play a meaningless game against Hawaii a week after celebrating their Big East title. That's perhaps the biggest recipe for a letdown ever cooked up. But if Cincinnati stays focused and has its legs, this should be a favorable matchup. Hawaii's best four opponents this season -- Florida, Oregon State, Fresno State and Boise State -- averaged 445 total yards and 39 points. This could turn into a nice working vacation for Tony Pike, Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard.

5. The bowl shakeout: We'll all know who's going where by 8 p.m. Sunday, when the BCS selection show airs. But it will be fascinating to follow the various scenarios for the Big East bowls this weekend, starting with the ripple effects from Thursday night's Rutgers-Louisville bowl. Will West Virginia or Pittsburgh get the Sun Bowl invite? Can UConn improve its lot? Who and where will Cincinnati play its BCS game? After a season full of questions, it's almost time for the answers.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Only two games in the Big East this weekend, so our education hasn't substantially improved. But here are a couple of things we learned:

1. Cincinnati will be a formidable BCS opponent for somebody: The Bearcats likely will end up in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech or Boston College, but there's also a chance they could go to the Sugar Bowl. Wherever they end up, they will be tough to beat. Cincinnati's defense has been terrific the past five games, allowing an average of just 16.8 points. And its offense keeps getting better under the controls of Tony Pike. On Saturday, Syracuse tried to keep everything in front of the secondary with a soft zone, and Pike picked it apart on two consecutive 14-play drives. The Bearcats also have the ability to burn tight coverage with their speedy receiver duo of Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard, and they run the ball just enough to be dangerous. That's why Cincinnati won the Big East and why it will be tough to beat in a BCS game.

2. West Virginia needs an offensive overhaul: Eleven games into the season, it's still hard to tell what the Mountaineers' identity is. One week, they let quarterback Pat White run for 200 yards at Louisville. On Friday at Pittsburgh, they got away from that and tried to throw more, even in the red zone. The offense has been wildly inconsistent all year, especially in some of West Virginia's biggest games. A major revamp needs to happen after the season when White graduates, and the program will need to figure out what type of offense it wants to run in the future.

3. LeSean McCoy may be the Big East's MVP:
When Pittsburgh decides to force feed the ball to McCoy, good things usually happen. He ran for 183 yards against West Virginia and controlled the fourth quarter as Pitt rallied back for the win. McCoy has surpassed 1,300 yards for the season and leads the conference (and the nation) in scoring with 20 touchdowns. His main competition for Big East offensive player of the year is Donald Brown of Connecticut. The two will square off this Saturday in East Hartford.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

CINCINNATI -- It's not exactly a nonstop thrill ride here at Nippert today, but Cincinnati goes into halftime up by 10 and just 30 minutes away from an outright Big East title.

The Bearcats have moved the ball efficiently through the air but have backed themselves up too many times with penalties. So after a touchdown drive to start the game, they've had to settle for a pair of Jake Rogers field goals.

Quarterback Tony Pike is 21-of-28 for 195 yards. Wide receiver Dominick Goodman -- who's wearing No. 36 in honor of his father, who played for the Bearcats in the 1980s -- has eight catches for 74 yards. He needs two more receptions to tie the UC single-season record and six more to become the school's career leader.

Syracuse continues to play hard as always, but other than a Tony Fiammetta 58-yard run on a third-and-1 handoff, the Orange offense hasn't done much at all. That play has accounted for more than half of Syracuse's total yards.

The Orange were down 13 in the second half last week and rallied to beat Notre Dame. But Cincinnati is much better than Notre Dame.

In case you're wondering, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross is in attendance, so if he's interviewing coaches today he's doing it by phone or somewhere in the Cincinnati area. Spotted Gross chatting with Bill Polian in the press box before the game.

Big East lunchtime links

November, 21, 2008

Posted by's Brian Bennett

• Dominick Goodman's teammates call him "The Wizard" and the Cincinnati wide receiver is close to making some school records disappear, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

• Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese tells the Syracuse Post-Standard's Donnie Webb that the Orange's next hire is big for the school, not so much the conference.

• The matchup between Pitt's receivers and Cincinnati's talented secondary will be one worth watching, John Grupp writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
• West Virginia will have a new name at holder this weekend, when Carmen Connolly takes over for Jeremy Kash, who was arrested for his role in a bar fight. Dave Hickman has the story in the Charleston Gazette.
• Tight end Steve Brouse won't be ready to play for UConn on Sunday, Desmond Connor notes in the Hartford Courant. Also in this notebook: Cody Brown is living up to his potential at defensive end.
• Grant Gregory has been getting most of the reps at quarterback for South Florida this week in practice because of Matt Grothe's injury, Brett McMurphy writes in the Tampa Tribune.
• Rutgers is trying to avoid all the speculation about bowls and just focus on Army, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

1. LeSean McCoy vs. the Cincinnati defense: The Bearcats have been strong against the run of late, holding West Virginia to under 100 yards as a team and limiting Louisville to 3.2 yards per carry. But Donald Brown gashed them for 150 yards last month, and Pitt had two 100-yard rushers in a win over Cincinnati last year. Pittsburgh proved against Louisville that it could win without a huge day from McCoy, but one of his vintage performances sure would help the cause.

2. Cincinnati's passing game vs. the Pitt secondary:
The Panthers' defensive backfield has upgraded its play since the disastrous showing against Rutgers, but it's still vulnerable to big plays. Cincinnati has the most productive pass-catching duo in the conference with Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard. You'd better believe Tony Pike is going to test Pitt deep early and often.

3. Jonathan Baldwin vs. Mike Mickens: The league's most electric young receiver will certainly find himself matched up at times with one of the best senior cornerbacks in the nation. Pitt's ability to throw deep off play-action will force Mickens and his teammates to react quickly. At 6-foot-5, Baldwin can erase mistakes by quarterback Bill Stull and can jump over the 6-foot Mickens. "Our corners are going to be challenged," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens have to play their best football."

4. Pat White on the loose in Louisville: Last year against the Cardinals, White ran for 147 yards and passed for 181. Two years ago against them, he had 125 yards rushing and 222 yards passing. The West Virginia quarterback is usually at his best in this game, and given Louisville's inexperienced linebackers and dearth of speed on the defensive line, he could be in for another monster performance.

5. Louisville's spirits: The Cardinals have lost three straight, are surrounded by negativity and can't even get fans buzzing about a game against West Virginia. But it is Senior Day, and some terrific players like Eric Wood, George Bussey, Earl Heyman and Hunter Cantwell won't want to leave without a fight. Can they get something going early against the usually slow-starting Mountaineers and build some confidence?

6. Matt Grothe: The South Florida quarterback clearly isn't healthy right now. He hurt his left ankle against Rutgers and wore a boot for a few days afterward. He's a tough guy who will probably still play Sunday against UConn, but if his mobility is limited, that takes away one of his greatest strengths. And Grothe has thrown eight interceptions in his past three games even when healthy.

7. Donald Brown: The nation's leading rusher will go against a struggling Bulls defense. While South Florida's real weakness is in its defensive backfield, teams have been able to run up the middle against them, which is something Brown can do with the best of backs.

8. Air raid on Army: Rutgers has been flying high through the air during its four-game winning streak, and Army is going to have a tough time slowing down the Mike Teel-to-Kenny Britt connection. Certainly Army doesn't practice much against a passing offense; the Black Knights average just 50 yards passing per game and had a game this year where they didn't even attempt a throw.

9. Chip Bowden's well-being: Bowden is Army's quarterback, which places him in the crosshairs this weekend. Five of the last six quarterbacks have not been able to finish the game against the hard-hitting Rutgers defense, which made Grothe its latest victim last Saturday. Bowden is the team's second-leading rusher, so he'll be exposed to several hits.

10. Syracuse's motivation: How will the Orange react to the firing of Greg Robinson when they go to Notre Dame this weekend? Will they play with fire in an effort to show support for their well-liked coach? Or will they fold under the first sign of adversity?

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Why are Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the surprise clubhouse leaders in the Big East title chase? In a word: balance.

To this point in the season, the No, 19 Bearcats and No. 20 Panthers have been the most well-rounded teams in the league. They have the fewest warts and the most strengths. That's why they're the only two clubs who still control their own destiny in the Big East.

"When you combine their special teams with their defensive talent and experience and the production they've gotten on offense, you can see why they're the top-rated team right now in our conference," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said of Cincinnati.

"What they bring to the table is great balance in all that they do," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said of Pitt.

Few predicted before the season that Saturday's game at Nippert Stadium (ESPN2, 7:15 p.m. ET) would loom as the Big East's Game of the Year. Maybe we should have.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Brian Bennett

CINCINNATI -- We hear all the time about this or that contest being a "big game" for some college football team. But it's not too often that a team can definitively say the next date on the schedule is the biggest game in the history of its program.

That's what Cincinnati has on the docket this week. There's really no precedent for what the 19th-ranked Bearcats can accomplish this weekend. If they beat No. 20 Pittsburgh on Saturday, they will be the Big East champions unless they somehow stub their toe at home against Syracuse the following week. The school had some nice teams in the 1950s under Sid Gillman, but winning the Mid-American Conference doesn't really compare to going to a BCS game.

"It's definitely the biggest game in UC history," senior defensive end Connor Barwin said. "I don't see how you could say it isn't.

"Everybody's jumped on the bandwagon and people are excited around campus. Nippert Stadium is going to be as exciting as it's ever been. I'm pumped to see what it's going to be like. The Bengals haven't been doing so good this year, so we've even got some Bengals fans behind us now."

Cincinnati (8-2, 4-1 Big East) is entering what Brian Kelly called "unchartered territory." But the coach says this should be just the beginning for the Bearcats.

"There's no reason why this shouldn't be the largest crowd in the history of Nippert Stadium -- right now," he said. "We don't want this to be the end of where we are, relative to attendance. We see this thing growing as we continue to do this, as the stadium increases and the fan size increases. This is just the start. We want to see how high we can go."

Kelly said he wants Cincinnati fans to come to view this as "old hat," that the team will be competing for conference championships late in November from here on out. First, though, it must take care of business, and remember to treat this as a normal game.

The Bearcats are coming off three straight emotional victories. First they beat South Florida at home on a Thursday night ESPN game. Then they went to West Virginia and held on in overtime to beat the Mountaineers for the first time in league play. Last week, they withstood some sloppy weather conditions and a second-half deficit in Louisville to snap a five-game losing streak in the Keg of Nails rivalry.

Now comes Pittsburgh, which has never lost to Cincinnati in seven tries, including three Big East contests. The Panthers had last week off to rest and prepare, while the Bearcats have been through the meat grinder, playing five of their last seven games away from home. Kelly said his team was a little "road-weary" at Louisville last week. But he expects them to have plenty left in the tank for this game, and he's talked to them about staying on an even keel.

"We're keeping poised and not trying to be as rushed up," wide receiver Dominick Goodman said. "We're eager to play but we want to stay focused until gametime comes and then let all our emotions out."

Kelly sure seemed loose on Tuesday. He came to his news conference wearing a brand new, XXL red fleece pullover, piggybacking off Cincinnati's request that all fans wear red at Nippert this weekend. He promised the pullover to whichever reporter asked the best questions, then took it off and handed it over to Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter Bill Koch midway through the session.

This is a team that's confident in itself, believes it can achieve things Cincinnati has never done before. That comes from senior leadership and Kelly's self-assured manner.

"Last year, we thought there was one team that was more talented than us, and that was West Virginia," Kelly said. "The only way we were going to catch them is if we got stronger physically in the offseason, and I thought our kids did a great job closing that gap.

"I think, in the Big East, our kids can go out now and feel comfortable that they can compete against anybody."

Their next competition will be the biggest game in the history of the program. Win that, and even bigger things will come.

"Everybody's just so happy that we're at this stage," Goodman said. "People wouldn't think the Cincinnati Bearcats would be on this rise, but it's happening."

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Dustin Grutza, QB, Cincinnati: Forget the numbers (1-for-2 passing, 24 yards). Salute the guts of Grutza for coming in during the fourth quarter at Louisville in relief of Tony Pike and leading the team to the game-clinching score in the 28-20 win. Grutza hadn't played since Week 2 at Oklahoma when he suffered a gruesome broken leg.

Dominick Goodman, WR, Cincinnati: Goodman caught nine passes for 134 yards and had the go-ahead touchdown on a beautiful hookup with Pike.

Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: Britt became the school's leading career receiver in the 49-16 win over South Florida, catching eight balls for 173 yards and a 93-yard touchdown. Britt has four straight 100-yard receiving days.

Jason McCourty, CB, Rutgers: The senior had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery in the win at South Florida.

Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut: The junior had his ninth 100-yard rushing day of the season and became his school's all-time leading rusher with 131 yards on 22 carries in a 39-16 win at Syracuse. He scored on a 49-yard dash.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

CINCINNATI -- Brian Kelly began his sales pitch the minute he became Cincinnati's coach in December 2006.

He told his new players they would compete for the Big East championship and become a Top 25-caliber program right away.

  Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI
 Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly has the Bearcats thinking big.

His optimism met some understandable skepticism. The Bearcats had just finished a 7-5 regular season, a banner year by their recent standards, and were happy to get invited to the International Bowl.

"We had a lot of seniors on the team, and it was kind of like, 'Who's this guy coming in and saying all this big talk?'" senior defensive end Connor Barwin recalled.

Kelly led Cincinnati to a bowl victory, then continued his ambitious proselytizing all summer. When Cincinnati knocked off Oregon State by 31 points in Week 2 last season, the new coach had found true believers.

"That's when we started to think, 'OK, this guy knows what he's talking about and his philosophy works,'" Barwin said. "That allowed us to get the confidence he had been talking about since he walked through the door."

The Bearcats finished 10-3 in Kelly's first season, the most victories by the program since 1951. They landed their first-ever spot in the final Associated Press poll, at No. 17.

Now, the sales pitch aims even higher. Kelly will take his team on the road against No. 4 Oklahoma this Saturday, and he sounds positively giddy about the opportunity.

"We took this game on as an opportunity to measure ourselves against the very best," he said. "When I came here, my first goal was to get our football team to change its mindset as far as how they compete, what they compete for. This is the next progression. We know we can compete for a championship in the Big East. Now we want to find out where we stand on a national stage."

Kelly went looking for a prominent 2008 opponent even before the 2007 season kicked off. (Oklahoma will return the favor in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium in 2010).

He could hardly have found a tougher measuring stick. The Sooners are 50-2 at home since 2000 and have been installed as a 21.5-point favorite Saturday. The game will be played before 82,000 Boomer Sooner faithful, nearly two-and-half times as many fans as Cincinnati sees at its own home stadium.

But the Bearcats shouldn't be too intimidated by the atmosphere. They have a veteran team -- 18 juniors and seniors fill the starting lineup -- and many of the upperclassmen remember the 2005 trip to Penn State and the 2006 visit to Ohio State.

Of course, both of those games ended in blowout losses. The difference this time around? Cincinnati players believe.

"When we went to Ohio State, I don't want to say we didn't think we could win," Barwin said. "But it was kind of like, 'Hey, if we get a couple of breaks and play our best, maybe we'll come out with a big upset.'

"But this year, everybody's excited. We know how talented we are and we're confident in our ability. We think we can go down (to Oklahoma) and come out with a win."

Part of that confidence stems from Kelly's offensive brilliance. From Grand Valley State, where he won back-to-back Division II national championships, to Central Michigan, Kelly's teams have always scored points in bunches. Cincinnati has averaged 35.9 points in his 15-game tenure, eclipsing 40 points six times.

"We feel like we can score on anybody," receiver Dominick Goodman said.

Facing the spread won't be anything new for Oklahoma, which had mixed results against the scheme last season. The Sooners' two victories over Missouri -- 41-31 in the regular season and 38-17 in the Big 12 title game -- had some analysts decreeing that Bob Stoops had found the key to stopping the spread with his speed on defense. But Oklahoma also lost to Texas Tech and Colorado, both of which employ different types of spread principles.

"I think at Missouri they'd probably say, 'We played well offensively, but we didn't hold them down,'" Kelly said. "Those were shootouts. And our systems are a little bit different."

And there was one other game on the Sooners' schedule last year that caught Cincinnati's attention. Fellow Big East member West Virginia rolled over Oklahoma 48-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Bearcats only lost 28-23 to the Mountaineers in November.

"That showed us their weaknesses," Goodman said. "Hopefully, we can go out there and do the same thing West Virginia did."

But Kelly doesn't see many weaknesses to exploit on the Sooners, who boast one of the nation's most experienced (and talented) offensive lines, a star backfield with quarterback Sam Bradford and tailback DeMarco Murray and NFL prospects all over the defense. Kelly described Oklahoma as "a Big East all-star team."

Cincinnati has some studs of its own, especially on its underrated defense. Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith are two of the best defensive backs in the country who combined for 14 interceptions a year ago. Defensive tackle Terrill Byrd, back after a one-game suspension, was a second-team all-American last year.

The Big East sure could use a respectable effort by the Bearcats after its teams went 0-4 against major-college competition in the first weekend.

"If Cincinnati went out there and got a win," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, "it would do a lot for Cincinnati and do a lot for our conference."

Kelly is a restless promoter of his program and a master of the perfect sound bite. He publicly complained last year when his hometown paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, didn't bother to send a reporter to Big East Media Day. Instead of feuding with the paper, though, he began writing a preseason diary in its pages.

He's convinced just about everybody that Cincinnati can field a winner. But the next level of credibility can only be purchased by winning games like this.

"(A win) would kind of give us that national attention, the national respect," Barwin said. "You don't get respect after one year. You've got to do it consistently."

Big East helmet stickers

August, 31, 2008

Posted by's Brian Bennett

There are still two games left in the Big East weekend, but the following players have already earned their hat decals:

Pat White, QB, West Virginia: Completed 25-of-33 passes for 208 yards and five touchdowns with one interceptions in West Virginia's 48-21 win over Villanova. He also ran nine times for 63 yards.

Mortty Ivy, LB, West Virginia: Had a fumble recovery, returned an interception for a touchdown and had a sack in the win over Villanova.

The South Florida defense: Limited Tennessee-Martin to just 97 total yards in a 56-7 win.

Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut: Ran for 146 yards and four touchdowns -- all in the first half -- in the Huskies' 35-3 win over Hofstra on Thursday.

Dustin Grutza, QB, Cincinnati: Completed 21-of-28 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown, in the Bearcats' 40-7 win over Eastern Kentucky on Thursday.

Dominick Goodman, WR, Cincinnati: Caught 10 passes for 144 yards and two scores in the Eastern Kentucky game.