I heard some of my friends brag about Cincinnati, and I even pinned an article about the Bearcats on a corkboard in my home office. Yeah, I listened; I just didn't pay serious attention to the overloaded lies that trumpeted the quality of the UC football program.
You see, I'm a realist. I know verbal dung when I hear it.
No, I am not a UC-hater, although it might sound as if I am. I will admit I'm biased toward the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC. I wouldn't mind, however, one or two of their powerhouse teams losing in bowl games this season to teams from lesser conferences. But these days the teams in those elite conferences seem to win with unexpected ease.
They are leaving the landscape littered with wannabes -- pretenders to spots in big bowls. Teams like Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State can whine about the unfairness of not getting their due, but their worthiness took a 51-24 trouncing in the Sugar Bowl. To give one minute's thought to Cincinnati as a legitimate threat to beat anybody ranked in the Top 5 is to waste 60 seconds.
The Bearcats get no respect for the same reason Mark Sanford and Paris Hilton get none: They've done nothing to earn respect. Only a "certified" fool disputes a point as obvious as this.
But fools are everywhere among us in college sports. They are like crabgrass: sprouting up wherever an open plot of dirt shows itself. They let their partisan leanings blind them from this immutable truth: Talent wins.
A spotless record against uneven opposition doesn't prepare a team to play against a superior opponent, a painful fact for the Bearcats. They found out Friday night in the Sugar Bowl that they are hardly ready for BCS prime-time.
To say they were beaten badly would simply overstate the obvious. It would be akin to calling Bill Gates rich or Bill O'Reilly conservative.
For one thing that separates the great teams from the OK teams is talent. In the loss to Florida, the Bearcats were short of talent. They didn't have the speed, the size or the athleticism to go punch for punch with the Gators.
Coaches and analysts can talk about schemes and strategies all night, and these do matter. But ask any college coach if he would trade an innovative scheme for talent like Florida coach Urban Meyer has and listen to what the coach says. He will confess that his greatness is tied to the quality of his players. A great coach has great players, no arguing that point.
And great players don't flock to Cincinnati to play football.
Not that the school doesn't have its share of talent; it does. But up and down its lineup, the school has lesser players at almost every position when it comes to lining up, helmet to helmet, against elite schools from high-powered conferences.
Season after season, those schools prove their superiority. They aren't the next Daniel Powter ("Bad Day"), a one-hit wonder as the Bearcats look to be. Their coaches can assemble decent teams now and again, but even those teams' flaws display themselves under the pressure and athleticism of a big-time opponent like the Florida Gators.
From the opening kickoff, the Bearcats had no chance. They boasted none of the speed and quickness of Florida; they didn't have the size of Florida; nor did they have the big-game experience of Florida. What the Bearcats lacked trumped all it did have, which wasn't much.
By halftime, they were almost catatonic. Little improved in the second half. The 'Cats embarrassed themselves, proving The Associated Press right all along in packing its weekly rankings of college's best teams with football programs from the SEC, the Pac-10 and the Big 12.
In its performance, Florida showed that pretenders for national recognition - schools like, oh, Cincinnati - should be fortunate to break into the Top 25.
The Top 10?
Not in this century.
And a National Champion?
The Bearcats will have their moments; they might surprise an elite team here and there. But no one should seriously see them as a legitimate contender for a national title.
Their hopes should be to play in "Why Hold This Bowl" games, not in the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. Their sights should be set on playing similar programs like Boise State, TCU and Utah, not on playing Florida, Alabama, Texas or Ohio State.
I think that's the one lesson their fans - the dreamers in the crowd -- should have come away with after watching their overmatched Bearcats lose Friday night to the Gators, 51-24.
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