NEWPORT, R.I. -- When Cincinnati coach
"I screamed," Kelly said Tuesday. "I yelled. It did no good."
Kelly's Bearcats debut Sept. 7 at Rutgers in a nationally televised (ESPN) game that will set the early tone in a wide-open Big East race. Kelly hasn't backed down from scheduling tough opponents in his two seasons at Cincinnati, but he's also very protective of his program. The Bearcats play at South Florida and at Pittsburgh this season and host West Virginia.
"We are a [Bowl Championship Series] league and we have an automatic qualifier into the BCS for the next four years," Kelly said. "At some time we have to be able to step back a little bit and [ask] what's in the best interests of our teams, more so than what's in the best interests of our conference."
Opening with a conference road game will drastically alter preparation plans for Cincinnati, picked to finish third in the preseason media poll announced at Tuesday's annual conference media day. The Bearcats replace 10 defensive starters from the 11-3 Big East championship team that lost to Virginia Tech in last year's Orange Bowl, but will not have a lot of time to test the waters in camp.
"It's probably the biggest change that I've had to make in my time here at Cincinnati," Kelly said. "You don't have time to mess around with who's the starting defensive end. You don't have time to mess around two-platooning. You've got to get your best guys ready to play in camp."
While the Bearcats will be thinking about Rutgers when they open camp on Aug. 11, athletics officials will be thinking about how far the program has come during Kelly's brief tenure. Season ticket sales are up eight percent since the trip to the Orange Bowl. Kelly said he was prepared for success when he took the job on Dec. 4, 2006, but admits "BCS" wasn't part of the program's vocabulary then and no plans to expand Nippert Stadium existed.
Even Cincinnati's players have been surprised by the 21 victories and two bowl appearances in the past two seasons.
"It's been like going from nothing to something," said senior defensive back
Webster may not have to wake up from that dream. Though Cincinnati finished third in the preseason poll, it received the same number of first-place votes (eight) as No. 1 choice Pittsburgh.
The Bearcats' first opponent, Rutgers, finished fifth in the poll and didn't receive a single first-place vote. However, the Scarlet Knights may have the most favorable conference schedule with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and South Florida all at home. The Mountaineers finished second in the poll with five first-place votes, while South Florida finished fourth with three.
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"We're not going to be in a hybrid," Marinatto said. The Big East currently holds bowl contracts with the Gator, Sun, Meineke Car Care, Papajohns.com, St. Petersburg and International bowl games.
"We are in constant discussions with a number of bowls across the country," Marinatto said. "We have three criteria that are long established regarding what it is we look for in postseason opportunities: destination, location and opponent. We feel good about where we are. It may not necessarily be where we've been."
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