Tuesday, September 9, 2003

West Virginia offers a chance to audition

Bearcats can catch Big East's eye

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
Ultimately, the powers that be in the Big East Conference will not make a decision on the University of Cincinnati's attractiveness as a candidate for their revamped league based on one football game.

But that won't stop the Bearcats from doing their best imitation of a big-time football program when they travel to Morgantown on Saturday to play Big East member West Virginia.

UC continues to be mentioned along with Louisville as the two schools most likely to be invited to join the Big East to replace Miami and Virginia Tech, which are leaving after this year for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

While they wait for the league to make its decision, the Bearcats want to do everything they can to convince the remaining schools that UC would be a solid addition to their conference.

"We're going to take a big crowd," UC athletic director Bob Goin said Monday. "We get 2,000 tickets and we're not sending any back, which is a very good sign."

West Virginia (1-1) lost its opener to Wisconsin 24-17. Last week, the Mountaineers bounced back to beat East Carolina 48-7. UC (1-0) defeated East Carolina 40-3 in its season opener two weeks ago.

UC has never beaten West Virginia in 12 previous meetings, although the two tied in 1940, so a victory for the Bearcats would be momentous in any event, especially in front of a hostile crowd at 63,500-seat Mountaineer Field.

But the Big East subplot makes the prospect even more enticing. The Bearcats would love to show the rest of the league that they're ready to step in and compete in the league right away.

"It's an opportunity for us to be measured against a good, solid Big East team that went to a bowl game last year," said UC coach Rick Minter.

Without declaring his intentions outright, Goin has made it clear that the Big East would be an attractive destination for the Bearcats.

He points to the rivalry against West Virginia as one that would fit nicely into UC's athletic philosophy, both because of the Mountaineers' five-hour proximity to Cincinnati and the strength of their program. Goin has found an ally in West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong.

"Eddie and I are good friends," Goin said. "Their university has been supportive in keeping Cincinnati under consideration."

Last year, the Bearcats dropped a 35-32 decision to West Virginia when Jonathan Ruffin's 49-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright as time expired. That game attracted 28,806 fans to Nippert Stadium, which is good by UC's standards, but only about half as many as will greet the Bearcats on Saturday.

"It happens to be a great hostile environment," Minter said. "If you're a college football player or coach you really do long to go into these type of environments. That's what we long for here."

WRIGHT DOUBTFUL: UC will probably have to play West Virginia without starting defensive tackle Mike Wright, who sprained his left ankle against East Carolina. Wright had the ankle in a cast last week. "It would be difficult for him to play," Minter said.

Up next

Game 2: UC at West Virginia

Kickoff: Noon Saturday

TV: Channel 19

Records: UC 1-0; W. Va. 1-1


E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com

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