CINCINNATI (AP) -Brian Kelly is under no illusions about Cincinnati's season opener.
The new head coach has spent a lot of time promoting Bearcats football in a market where traditionally it's been hardly more than an afterthought. From the billboards to the daily diary in the newspaper, Kelly has tried to make people take notice.
All of that aside, he knows it's going to look like the past when the Bearcats take the field for their opener Thursday night against Southeast Missouri State.
``Is this game going to bring the attendance up from 20,000?'' Kelly said. ``No, of course it's not. It's going to take consistency of play to bring it up to that level.
``But this is the start. It's the tease, if you will, that you want people to see what you're doing.''
What they're doing is trying to make Bearcat football fashionable.
Kelly's predecessors won regular-season games and won bowl games, but couldn't win over the fans. Cincinnati averaged 21,166 fans per home game last season - the same size crowd the Reds draw late in a meaningless season - despite going 8-5 in the Big East.
Mark Dantonio won games, but was frustrated that the Bearcats still couldn't draw fans. He left for Michigan State after the regular season, Kelly was hired from Central Michigan, and the Bearcats beat Western Michigan in the International Bowl with a makeshift coaching staff.
Then, Kelly started promoting.
``I think the paradigm shift here has been one of: We've got to go out and market our program,'' Kelly said. ``We can't just wait for people to come to the University of Cincinnati.
``It's a very competitive market. It's a sports town that has an NFL franchise and a Major League Baseball franchise and is very competitive in the high school market. So you have to go to the public. You can't wait for them to come to you.''
He's hoping that a new style of offense captures the public's imagination.
Part of Kelly's allure was his wide-open offense at Central Michigan. He has brought the no-huddle approach to Cincinnati, where the players are still trying to master it. Kelly estimates that perhaps half of the total offense will be available to new quarterback Ben Mauk in the opener.
It's going to take time.
``We don't believe we can play at the highest level with half of what we can do in there,'' he said.
Mauk beat incumbent Dustin Grutza for the starting job, but could lose it quickly if he performs poorly. Mauk is a newcomer - he started Wake Forest's season opener last year, then dislocated his right shoulder and broke his right arm while trying to recover a fumble against Syracuse.
He got his undergraduate degree at Wake Forest, rehabilitated the arm and shoulder, and came to Cincinnati for his graduate work and a chance to run Kelly's spread offense. Mauk was one of the nation's top prep passers at Kenton High School, winning Ohio's Mr. Football award in 2002.
``Here's a young man that transferred in and had no spring practice, was coming off a very significant injury, but has shown in a very short period of time that he can run our offense,'' Kelly said. ``I think that's significant.''
He has a very inexperienced group of receivers, so the Bearcats might be more run-oriented at the outset. Senior Butler Benton leads a deep group of running backs.
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``This is a team that does not have many superstars, but has a lot of depth,'' Kelly said.
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