Cincinnati passes OSU in AP poll

COLUMBUS – Unlike powerhouse programs such as Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Southern California and Michigan, Ohio State football has had no peers within its borders.

The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an in-state rival in 88 years. Even though Ohio has eight Football Bowl Subdivision teams, there’s no question who the top dog is in interest, attendance or talent.

But Ohio State’s lofty perch on its scarlet and gray pedestal was shaken this week when the Associated Press Top 25 came out. Right there, in black and white, was Ohio State at No. 9 – and Cincinnati at No. 8.

On the Big East coaches call on Monday, UC coach Brian Kelly made light of the question of who would win a Battle for the Buckeye State.

‘You settle these questions on the field. They’re all hypothetical, so who knows?’ he said. ‘Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, though my son played (them) in PlayStation the other day, and Cincinnati won 91-0. So maybe we can use that.’

Eight-year-old Kenzel Kelly was rewarded for engineering the decisive victory.

‘I promptly took him out to McDonald’s,’ Kelly cracked.

Almost immediately after the poll came out, radio talk shows in Columbus were flooded with outraged fans. On Twitter, blogs and Web sites, proud Ohio Staters called the rankings a travesty. They pointed out that the Buckeyes have met the Bearcats on the field three times this decade and have won all three by an average score of 29-11.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati followers chortled over the mega-university in the middle of the state getting knocked down a peg.

They pointed out that it took two dropped passes in the end zone by Bearcats receivers in the final minute for the Buckeyes to even get out the Queen City with a 23-19 win in 2002.

Then again, those Buckeyes went on to win the national championship – something the Bearcats have never even come close to doing in football.

True to form, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel sidestepped the debate.

‘Well, it reminds you that there’s good players in Ohio,’ he said Tuesday of UC’s ascension above his team. ‘Outside of our conference, (the Bearcats) are probably our next favorite group.’

There hasn’t been much of a debate until now.

Cincinnati is ranked ahead of the Buckeyes for the first time in 51 years. The Bearcats were No. 20 and Ohio State unranked on Nov. 21, 1951.

No Ohio team had risen above Ohio State in the AP poll since Bowling Green was No. 25 and the Buckeyes were unranked on Nov. 13, 2004.

‘That’s just college football,’ Ohio State defensive lineman Todd Denlinger said.

‘I don’t know how these things are voted upon or how it’s all looked at, but if we just keep getting better I think by the end of the year we’ll be where we want to be.’

The Bearcats are idle this week, while the Buckeyes are preparing for a showdown at home Saturday against unbeaten Wisconsin.

The margin between the teams in this week’s AP poll was a measly 10 points. The media poll has no bearing on the Bowl Championship Series and who the teams might meet in bowl games. The coaches and Harris polls each have Cincinnati behind the Buckeyes.

Should Cincinnati remain an in-state rival with Ohio State, know one knows what the effect might be on recruiting for the many blue-chippers in the state. Maybe the next on-field meeting might tell more.

The teams don’t play again until 2012 – a game that Ohio State reportedly paid $1 million to move from Cincinnati to Ohio Stadium. A return match will be in 2014, again in Columbus.

‘By that time, hopefully we can continue to accelerate our program so Ohio State has something to gain by playing us,’ Kelly said. ‘In years past, it’s been such that Ohio State has everything to lose; they’re supposed to beat Cincinnati. So it hasn’t really been an equal footing. If we continue to win, continue to play at a high level, it makes for an exciting matchup. But before this, it wasn’t much of a matchup.’

Buckeyes punter Jon Thoma discounted the polls.

‘It’s all what people see, what they think. Who knows who’s better?’ he said. ‘But we’d be confident in a matchup with them.’

One reporter jokingly proposed a showdown at a neutral site in Ohio, after the regular season and before the bowls.

‘Bring it on,’ Thoma said with a grin.