Tennessee's streak of playing at least one nonconference game with a BCS opponent will reach 11 years Saturday.
Extend the streak. But put an asterisk by it.
Cincinnati just doesn't seem like a BCS team.
In fact, you could say as much about the entire Big East. The conference's approval ratings in football have dropped faster than Obama's the past two years, which would explain why it's no longer a stickler for geography.
Last November, the Big East invited TCU to join, and the Horned Frogs accepted with dizzying speed. They will begin Big East play in 2012.
I now interrupt this column for my first 2012 preseason football prediction: TCU to win Big East.
Big East basketball is a big deal. Big East football is a refuge for teams that can't get in any other BCS conference, which is another reason you might question Cincinnati's BCS credentials. It's one of those Conference USA escapees that joined the Big East in 2005 after Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College moved to the ACC.
Zapping a program with a BCS wand doesn't make all of its problems disappear. Like so many C-USA programs, Cincinnati still can't keep a good coach (See Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly for details).
Cincinnati also resembles a C-USA team on the field. For example, remember all those game-saving, goal-line stands the Bearcats made when they went 12-1 in 2009? Of course, you don't.
What you do remember is Cincinnati winning the way most C-USA teams win — with a relentless offense. In the Bearcats' greatest season, they gave up 131 points in their last three games.
Cincinnati continued to score last season under new coach Butch Jones. It scored 69 on Rutgers and had 29 or more points in five other games. It also gave up at least 28 points in its eight losses.
You can't judge how much the Bearcats' defense has improved based on a victory over Austin Peay. But they scored enough points (72) and gained enough yards (561) to make C-USA proud.
And they scored enough to alarm UT coach Derek Dooley. He had a look of disbelief when someone asked at Monday's news conference if he was concerned about the Vols looking past Cincinnati to the Sept. 17 game against Florida.
He ranks the Bearcats' offense with the best on UT's schedule. And Cincinnati won't be lacking in motivation, either.
"They had a tough season last year (4-8)," Dooley said. "So this is probably an early monumental game to keep their program at the level it has been. We're going to get their best."
Even when the Bearcats won 33 games and played in two BCS bowls under Kelly (2007-09), their only nonconference BCS victories came against Oregon State (twice) and a 3-9 Illinois team. So beating the Vols in Neyland Stadium would be huge for the program.
Just like it would be for a C-USA team.