In all the 124 years of University of Cincinnati football, there has never been a gathering quite like the one tonight at Fifth Third Arena.
The Bearcats players, coaches and fans watching the Bowl Championship Series selection show knew there would be a BCS spot reserved for UC for the first time in the program’s history; they knew it was likely to be the FedEx Orange Bowl. And then, indeed, the announcement was made that UC (11-2) – champion for the first time of the Big East Conference – had been selected to play Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in Miami Jan. 1.
The projected payout for playing the Orange Bowl is $17.5 million per team, a portion of which will make its way back to UC’s coffers by way of league revenue sharing. Harder to quantify -- but perhaps more exhilarating to UC supporters -- is the stamp of big-time relevance associated with playing in a BCS bowl game.
Three years ago when UC fled Conference USA to join the Big East, the university sold the move in part as one what would bolster its football program, which to that point had existed decidedly outside of the club of college football’s usual power players.
Tonight’s announcement, for all that was known about it ahead of time, was the latest capstone on UC football’s ascendance since joining the Big East, which has an automatic BCS bowl berth for its annual champion. Cincinnati clinched the Big East title – and thereby a BCS bowl berth – Nov. 28. Late Saturday night, the Bearcats defeated Hawaii in a non-league game. While that game had no bearing on Cincinnati’s BCS candidacy, it marked the first time that UC won at least 11 games in a season.
Of the five BCS contests, which include the National Championship Game, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl was the final bowl game to choose its teams this season, determined by an annual rotation. Virginia Tech automatically qualified for the Orange Bowl as the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, which is guaranteed an Orange Bowl spot.
The Fiesta or Sugar Bowls could have chosen UC but passed on the Bearcats in favor of teams with more established fan bases, a consideration for selling tickets and advertising. The Orange Bowl then was required to take UC because the Bearcats were guaranteed a BCS bowl game as Big East champions.
The Orange Bowl will be the 11th bowl game for the UC program. The Bearcats are 6-4 all-time in bowl games, including victories in their past three – the Fort Worth Bowl (2004-05), the International Bowl (2006-07) and the Papajohns.com Bowl (2007-08).
The Papajohns.com victory last season against Southern Mississippi marked the second time in UC history that the Bearcats won 10 games in a season. Now, in coach Brian Kelly’s second season, the Bearcats are aiming for win No. 12.