- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- Some news and notes from Tuesday's Allstate Sugar Bowl media sessions:
While Cincinnati is certainly happy to be in New Orleans, the Bearcats can't help but think how close they came to Pasadena.
After returning home from a 45-44 victory at Pitt on Dec. 5, most of the players anxiously watched the Big 12 title game, hoping for a Texas loss to Nebraska. That might have been enough to vault the 12-0 Bearcats into the BCS title game. And when Colt McCoy's last pass sailed out of bounds and the clock showed zero, they thought they were headed to the national championship.
"I was at (receiver) Charley Howard's house eating wings," wideout Mardy Gilyard said. "When I saw that clock hit zero, I threw my wings in the air. My brother and everybody were calling me immediately, saying 'You all are going to be in the big show.' And then all of a sudden that dreaded second came back on the clock.
“It was really a swift change. My wings were in the air and then by the time they touched the ground, I was like, 'I wonder what BCS game we’re going to be in.'"
Big 12 officials, of course, put one second back on the clock, and Texas kicked the winning field goal. But Cincinnati players don't sound too upset to have missed out on their shot at the title.
"We were so close," center Chris Jurek said. "But the two teams playing for the national championship are the right teams to be playing for it."
Florida's defense should get a boost with the return of defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The junior, who tied for the team lead with seven sacks this season, didn't play in the SEC championship game against Alabama after a DUI arrest.
"He made a mistake that never should have happened," defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "But he came back and was willing to apologize to the team."
Strong said no decision had been made whether Dunlap will start, but he will play.
"Everybody makes mistakes, but his was at a time that we really, really needed him," linebacker Ryan Stamper said.
Florida's defensive players know they're going against one of the best offenses in the country. They see that as a chance to prove themselves.
Alabama ran all over the Gators in a 32-13 romp in that SEC title game. Cornerback Joe Haden said shutting down Cincinnati would restore the defense's reputation.
"This gives us a chance to rebound and show that last game was a fluke," Haden said. "Alabama did a great job, but we definitely didn't play as well as we should have."
Haden said the secondary is excited to play what is primarily a passing team, after spending most of the season preparing for run-heavy offenses in the SEC.
Gilyard, who's from Bunnell, Fla., told me for the story I wrote earlier this week that he had been recruited by Florida, but that the Gators backed off because of academic concerns. He added some more details to that account on Tuesday.
"Ron Zook was the coach then, and he came to my high school," Gilyard said. "And that day, I did something knuckleheaded. I skipped school. My high school coach called me, upset of course, saying 'Ron Zook is here, we've checked all your classes, where are you?' I was at the beach or something. I'm sure Florida was like, 'Get him out of here.' I'm blessed that somebody wanted to fool with me."
Quote of the day: Cincinnati left tackle Jeff Linkenbach, on both teams' rather interesting coaching situations: "It's been bizarre. But we're in New Orleans. It's a bizarre place."