'Rocky Top' blares while Cincinnati practices

'Rocky Top' blares while Cincinnati practices

Published Sep. 7, 2011 10:22 p.m. ET

When Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros lines up behind center in the shotgun formation during practice this week, the only thing he can hear is ''Rocky Top'' playing over and over.

The loudspeaker system at Nippert Stadium has been cranked up to full volume, playing Tennessee's trademark song unrelentingly, as the Bearcats get ready for their trip to Knoxville. The song will be embedded in their brains long before they get to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Doesn't take much.

''Love `Rocky Top,''' coach Butch Jones said. ''It's one of the greatest songs ever. You can tell great songs because if you hear it one time, you keep singing it throughout the course of the day.''


Folks all around campus will have it going on a continuous loop in their heads this week. Although classes haven't started, some students are getting settled in. The song is played so loudly that it reverberates around the on-campus stadium.

And not everyone loves it like the coach.

''Growing up, my mom's boyfriend was a Tennessee fan so he had the flags on the car and when we played video games, he was Tennessee,'' said running back Isaiah Pead, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio. ''His cell phone ringer was `Rocky Top.'

''Hearing it on the loudspeaker and thinking of Tennessee, I just think of how mad I would get. I was an Ohio State fan when I was younger, but I used to get real, real upset by it. It's kind of a personal fuel to the fire.''

The schools have little history together. They've played only five times - Tennessee holds a 4-1 advantage - and haven't faced each other since 1992. By the time the Bearcats get ready for the kickoff, they'll feel some familiarity after listening to that song all week.

''I'm going to let it give me some motivation,'' linebacker J.K. Schaffer said.

Jones' decision to have the one-song playlist has little to do with his affinity for the tune. The Bearcats have 25 new players, some of whom play important reserve roles, and Jones doesn't want them getting caught up in the moment when they hear more than 100,000 people singing it live.

''You go into an environment like Neyland Stadium with 25 new individuals traveling for the first time - a lot of things are going to be great challenges,'' Jones said. ''It's going to be between the lines. It's not in the stands. It's not letting their fans get into it. It's not letting `Rocky Top' have a hand in what's going on.''

The Bearcats were known for playing well on the road when they won back-to-back Big East titles in 2008 and 2009 under Brian Kelly. They started badly last season under Jones, losing at Fresno State 28-14, and never got much better on the road. They went 1-4 away from home, also losing at North Carolina State, West Virginia and Connecticut.

They won their opener last Saturday at Nippert Stadium, beating Austin Peay 72-10 in front of only 23,282 fans. Tennessee is coming off a 42-16 win over Montana in Knoxville.

This will be a new experience for the Bearcats.

''Some of us have played in games like this, in hostile environments,'' Collaros said. ''We've never been to 100,000 (fans), but we've been to some places where it gets pretty loud. As soon as everybody gets settled in, you forget about the crowd and the hype and you just play.''

That's what Jones is hoping.

''You never really know them until they're into those situations,'' he said. ''This will be a good measuring tool for us, a good measuring stick to see exactly where we're at.''

For now, it's heavy doses of one of Jones' all-time favorite songs.

The other?

''The UC fight song,'' Jones said. ''That's the best song in America.''