UC-Michigan is huge, but the Bearcats have played plenty of great games against great opponents

Shannon Russell looks back at nine of the best

CINCINNATI -- There are big games and then there are some that are, well, huge.

The University of Cincinnati's next football game falls into the latter category, as it's against No. 8 Michigan at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Not only are the Wolverines heavily favored in the first-time clash between programs, but their 107,601-seat stadium will be filled with eager fans for the home opener.

Big stages are nothing new for the Bearcats. After Saturday's noon game at Michigan Stadium, UC teams will have played in each of the top five venues by capacity in college football.

UC has played at Penn State's Beaver Stadium (106,572 in 2005), Ohio State's Ohio Stadium (104,944 in 2014), Texas A&M's Kyle Field (102,733 in 1971) and Tennessee's Neyland Stadium (102,455 in 2011).

The Bearcats have played plenty of major opponents in regular-season games since the program debuted in 1885. Here are nine that stand out.

1983: UC 14, Penn State 3. The Nittany Lions were the defending national champions. The Bearcats were major underdogs, and yet they escaped Beaver Stadium with a thundering victory in their season opener. That victory was the highlight of a 4-6-1 UC season and the only campaign under Watson Brown, who left the next season for Rice. According to a New York Times recap, UC converted two fumble recoveries for touchdowns to set the tone for the win. Junior college transfer Troy Bodine, the Bearcats' quarterback, went 25-of-36 passing for 261 yards and a score while Penn State utilized three quarterbacks throughout the game. It was such a momentous victory for UC (and a devastating loss for Penn State) that then-coach Joe Paterno skipped his usual post-game radio interview.

1995: UC 16, Virginia Tech 0. Hokies fans would like to forget this one in Blacksburg, because what happened in the rest of the season -- a Big East championship and Sugar Bowl come-from-behind win over Texas -- were much easier on their nerves. The Bearcats allowed just 41 yards of offense in the shutout before 36,328 fans. The day was rainy and the field was slick but UC persevered, turning three turnovers to scores for a 16-0 advantage at halftime. That was all then-head coach Rick Minter and the Bearcats needed in the defensive clinic. The road upset was UC's only win in its first five games.

1999: UC 17, No. 9 Wisconsin 12. Oh, how those goalposts were dismantled. There was no greater glee at Nippert Stadium than in the aftermath of the Bearcats' upset of the Badgers. Just one week after squeaking past I-AA Troy State, UC topped a Ron Dayne-led Wisconsin team before an ecstatic home crowd. Wisconsin amassed a red-zone fumble, a muffed punt and a penalty that negated a touchdown in the last eight minutes. Dayne rushed for 231 yards throughout -- part of his Heisman Trophy-winning 1,834 rushing yards that season -- but sprained his ankle early in the outing and committed a game-altering fumble inside UC's 5-yard line. The victory was one of only three all season for Minter's Bearcats, and it was a doozy. Wisconsin, meanwhile, went on to win the Big Ten Conference and defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

2002: No. 6 Ohio State 23, UC 19. Although it was a loss, this was arguably one of the best games of the 2002 season against the eventual national champion Buckeyes. The Bearcats set school and Conference USA single-game attendance records in this rare all-Ohio outing at Paul Brown Stadium, which drew 66,319 fans. There was no Maurice Clarett in this one (torn meniscus), but OSU squeaked by, thanks to quarterback Craig Krenzel's game-winning touchdown with 4:27 left. UC attempted four passes from the Buckeyes' 15-yard line in the last minute, but receivers Jon Olinger and George Murray dropped two would-be scores on consecutive plays. Ohio State's Will Allen snuffed the Bearcats' upset bid by picking off a pass in the end zone with 32 seconds remaining. UC quarterback Gino Guidugli bombarded OSU with 52 passes, completing 26 attempts for 324 yards. He had one touchdown and two interceptions in the nail-biter.

2006: UC 30, No. 7 Rutgers 11. The agony of losing on the road to No. 1 Ohio State, No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 West Virginia ebbed with this milestone victory: Rutgers was the highest-ranked foe ever defeated by the Bearcats. Nick Davila made his first-ever start at quarterback in this outing at Nippert Stadium and went 11-of-15 passing for 277 yards and a touchdown. He ran in another touchdown against a Rutgers team that never found its bearings. UC's DeAngelo Smith -- also making his career first start, at cornerback -- intercepted a pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown. That ensured a 17-0 lead for a Bearcats team that became bowl eligible with the victory. UC rolled up 402 yards of offense in the win.

2008: UC 26, No. 20 West Virginia 23 (OT). After receiving a metal plate and six screws in his non-throwing arm, quarterback Tony Pike played his first complete game of the season in this memorable win. There was no shortage of drama, from Mardy Gilyard's 100-yard opening-kickoff return for a score to West Virginia's 52-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime. After UC held the Mountaineers to a field goal in OT, Pike threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kazeem Alli to win the game and ensure a first-place tie in the Big East standings. UC limited quarterback Pat White and running back Noel Devine to 99 yards, or 90 below their average. "Well, another boring game," coach Brian Kelly quipped afterward. "I hope ESPNU thanks us for the ratings." It was a key win for a Bearcats team that finished the season in the Orange Bowl.

2009: No. 17 UC 28, No. 24 Oregon State 18. There were plenty of highlights in this 12-1 season, which culminated in the Sugar Bowl and served as Brian Kelly's last at the helm of the Bearcats, but this game had a special zing to it. UC traveled to Corvallis and snapped Oregon State's streak of 26 straight non-conference wins at Reser Stadium, a stretch that started in 1996. The Bearcats led 21-8 at halftime and weathered the Beavers' second-half comeback bid to clinch the victory. Tony Pike threw for 332 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Gilyard in the fourth quarter.

Isaiah Pead of the Cincinnati Bearcats scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on Dec. 5, 2009, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

2009: No. 5 UC 45, No. 14 Pittsburgh 44. There was a lot on the line in this River City Rivalry game at Heinz Field, namely a second straight Big East title and a BCS bowl bid. The Bearcats fell behind by 21 points in the first half and faced a 44-38 deficit with 1:36 remaining before mounting a magnificent comeback. UC drove 63 yards in just 61 seconds to secure the game-winning score: Tony Pike's 29-yard touchdown pass to Armon Binns. Isaiah Pead rushed nine times for 76 yards and a touchdown, but the player garnering the most publicity was Gilyard, who flummoxed Pitt with five receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score.

2012: UC 27, No. 25 Virginia Tech 24. It was a career day for quarterback Munchie Legaux, who amassed 376 yards on 19-of-42 passing in this thriller at FedEx Field in Maryland. The Hokies vaulted ahead on a 56-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 left in the game. Legaux answered quickly, finding Damon Julian for a 39-yard touchdown strike with just 13 second remaining. The Bearcats were in the Receiving Votes portion of the Associated Press Top 25, so it wasn't much of an upset, but it helped UC to a five-game season-opening winning streak under Butch Jones. UC capped its Big East championship season with a victory over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

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