CINCINNATI (AP) -Tired of playing to less-than-capacity crowds in the Big East's smallest stadium, coach Brian Kelly bluntly challenged the Cincinnati Bearcats' fan base to grow a little bit for the league's biggest game.
If the 19th-ranked Bearcats beat No. 20 Pittsburgh at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium on Saturday, they'll become the odds-on favorite for their first Big East championship.
``I think it is the biggest game in school history,'' Kelly said. ``There's no question about that. If that place doesn't have 500,000 people in it, I'm going to be (angry). I'm going to be (angry), because we've done everything to elevate this football program.
``If you can't support us next week, then there isn't anything else we can do.''
Kelly was exaggerating about the crowd to make a point, but he wasn't using hyperbole when he called it the school's biggest football game ever.
ictory over Pittsburgh (7-2, 3-1), they'll be one victory away from winning the conference title and a BCS bowl appearance in Kelly's second season. He raised the moribund program to national prominence last season, when the Bearcats won 10 games and finished with a No. 17 ranking, their highest ever.
Now, they are on track to make their first appearance in a BCS bowl, needing to beat Pitt and struggling Syracuse (2-8) in back-to-back home games.
``All you hope for is to put yourself in a situation where you can win the Big East championship,'' said Bearcat defensive end Connor Barwin, who is second in the league with seven sacks. ``It's really exciting, the situation we've put ourselves in.''
The Bearcats expect a capacity crowd - their first in five home games this season - and will wear their special red jerseys for the first time in five years, hoping it all adds up to a win over Pitt for the first time in eight meetings.
``Cincinnati may use it as motivation but aside from that, I don't really see anything to it,'' Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt said.
Pitt also controls its own destiny, but will need wins over three tough conference foes to claim the Big East. The Panthers will have to keep that perfect streak intact in Cincinnati, then defeat West Virginia, which is currently tied with Pitt for second place, followed by a win at Connecticut.
inal three games, but it's tough,'' Pitt running back LeSean McCoy said. ``We're going to be playing three really good teams, so the way we look at is: How bad do we want it? The leaders on this team, they want it bad. I'm sure of that, and that has come down to the other guys.''
One of the game's main themes is how well Cincinnati's veteran defense - 10 senior starters - controls McCoy, who ran for 137 yards in the Panthers' 24-17 win last season. The Bearcats have allowed only one 100-yard runner this season, UConn's Donald Brown.
The defense has been dominant in the past two games, setting up victories at West Virginia and Louisville that put Cincinnati atop the league standings.
``They probably have the toughest defense we'll face all season,'' said Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who ranks third in the league in passing with 222 yards per game. ``They have a good secondary, but we believe they try to stop the run first. And that's fine with us. We want to mix it up.''
Cincinnati has climbed to the top of the league despite having three quarterbacks hurt. Senior Dustin Gruzta broke his lower right leg in the second game, and junior Tony Pike broke his left (non-passing) forearm in the fourth game. Redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson took over and sprained his right knee.
ory over Louisville last weekend, and Grutza returned and led the clinching touchdown drive. Pike is expected to start on Saturday night in the Bearcats' biggest game yet.
``Never would I have thought that I'd be going back to Cincinnati and for the magnitude to be so high,'' said Pitt safety Eric Thatcher, who grew up in Cincinnati.
Two years ago, no one would have thought it.
``There's no reason why there should not be the largest crowd in the history of Nippert Stadium,'' Kelly said. ``We don't want this to be the end of where we are relative to attendance. Obviously we want to see this thing growing. This is just the start of how high we can go relative to packing them in at Nippert Stadium.''
A Big East title would help.
---
AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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