Though the Buckeyes have long been the top dog in the state of Ohio, this version of the Cincinnati Bearcats are more than willing to show their claws as the intrastate rivals clash Saturday at Ohio State.
Ranked 22nd, the Buckeyes (2-1) haven't lost to an in-state school since a 7-6 defeat against Oberlin in 1921. Ohio State hasn't lost in 44 consecutive games against other Ohio teams.
Cincinnati (2-0) came as close as any to ending that long-standing streak. Ohio State came to Paul Brown Stadium unbeaten in 2002 and watched the Bearcats drop two passes in the end zone during the closing minutes of a 23-19 Buckeye win. Ohio State went on to win the national championship.
The Buckeyes, who also posted lopsided home victories in 2004 and 2006, were supposed to come back to Cincinnati in 2012, but paid $1 million to buy out the deal and move the game to Columbus. They'll play again in 2019 in Columbus.
''We've been looking forward to it for a while,'' Cincinnati defensive end Silverberry Mouhon said Tuesday. ''It's been on our minds since the summertime when we first heard about it. It's an opportunity for us to show what we can do on that much of a stage.
''At the same time, we're just going to show that we are the best school in the state of Ohio.''
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer - a Cincinnati graduate - is well aware the Bearcats feel they have a point to prove in this game and has drilled his squad hard throughout its bye week and this week leading into this contest.
''We have to be at our best,'' Meyer said Monday. ''I expect us to be that. On the bye week we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, last week, back at it today and we're ready to go.''
Meyer isn't the only one with ties to both schools, adding former Cincinnati assistant and highly regarded prep school coach Kerry Coombs to his staff as a means of keeping a pipeline open in the Queen City. Ohio State has four players from Cincinnati on its roster.
''Cincinnati is our home. My wife and I grew up two miles apart, we both went to (Colerain). Our kids went there, our families, our parents - everybody was there,'' Coombs said. ''When Urban called (with a job offer), I called my wife and said, 'I got this phone call today. Before I tell him no, I just wanted to tell you that.' She said, 'Don't you tell him no.'
The Buckeyes demolished Kent State 66-0 on Sept. 13, rolling up 628 total yards as J.T. Barrett threw for 312 yards and a school record-tying six touchdowns and Curtis Samuel contributed 100 rushing yards and two scores. Yet it is Ohio State's defense that figures to be the focus since it gave up 52 points and 495 rushing yards in its first two games before overwhelming the Golden Flashes.
The big question for Cincinnati is how quarterback Gunner Kiel handles the pressure of this big-time environment.
Kiel transferred from Notre Dame, sat out last season and tied the school record with six touchdown passes in his debut, a 58-34 win over Toledo. He threw for four more touchdowns, but was erratic during a 34-21 win over Miami of Ohio last Saturday.
''He needs to quit pressing,'' coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday. ''He also needs some help. He got a lot of help the first game. The good passes he threw, we didn't drop any of them. And he threw three last week that should have been caught, one of them for a touchdown.''
Ohio State has won the last 10 games between the teams and leads the all-time series 13-2. Cincinnati's victories came in back-to-back home games in 1896-97.