CINCINNATI - Tony Pike threw a few crisp passes to Mardy Gilyard on a cold, sunny afternoon. The defense started getting ready to try to stop Tim Tebow in the biggest bowl game in Cincinnati's history.
After a tumultuous week, it all felt good.
The Bearcats (12-0) began practice for the Sugar Bowl on Thursday, one week after coach Brian Kelly told his players at their annual football banquet that he was headed for Notre Dame. The past seven days have been filled with anger, rumors and a lot of uncertainty.
Finally, they got back to football on Thursday, working out in front of Nippert Stadium's empty seats.
"This was kind of therapy for all of us - the kids included - to get back out here and do what they love," said offensive coordinator and interim coach Jeff Quinn.
Mentally, they were aching for it.
No BCS bowl team had a worse week than Cincinnati. After taking final exams, the players got together for their awards banquet at a downtown hotel while hearing rumors that Kelly was leaving for Notre Dame. At the end of the evening, he told them the rumors were true.
Some of the players had tears, others wore angry expressions when the left their meeting with Kelly, who was introduced in South Bend, Ind., the next day. Cincinnati immediately started a search for his replacement, causing more rumors to fly.
On Wednesday, Central Michigan coach Butch Jones agreed to a five-year contract, came to Cincinnati and met with the players before being publicly introduced as Kelly's replacement. Then he went back to Michigan, leaving it up to Quinn to start getting the team ready for its first Sugar Bowl appearance against fifth-ranked Florida on Jan. 1.
Jones plans to stay in the background leading up to the bowl, letting the players and coaches carry on the way they have throughout the best season in school history. Quinn, who was announced as interim coach the day Kelly left, addressed the team after practice Thursday at the 30-yard line, nodding his head and pointing his finger to emphasize his points during his speech.
"It was just about getting back out here and putting everything that happened last week away," Pike said. "It kind of stinks that the media gets surrounded with coach Kelly and the coaching stuff, and at the same time we just finished a 12-0 season and you don't hear much about that. It was about being able to get back to football and letting the business part of it go."
Their focus isn't completely sharp yet. Senior offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach acknowledged that the past seven days still seemed like a blur.
"A little bit, yeah," he said. "And last week was finals week on top of that. So it was a little rough with that. Then we had some time off, time to refocus and clear your mind.
"It's a rough situation, but we're ready to move on and try to get ready to play Florida. Anytime you have change, it takes some time to get used to it. I think we've accomplished that in the week we had off."
The Bearcats will practice through next Tuesday, take off for Christmas, then fly to New Orleans on Dec. 26 to get ready for the game.
FCS title game pits Villanova against Montana. Villanova coach Andy Talley sometimes wears his national championship ring while on recruiting trips - his basketball national championship ring, that is.
The ring was a gift from the school's basketball team when he was hired in 1985 to rebuild the football program. Twenty-five seasons later, Talley and the Wildcats finally have their first shot at winning the school's first FCS title when they face Montana tonight in Chattanooga.
The second-ranked Wildcats (13-1) couldn't have picked a more dominant opponent.
"I think they've won something like 3,000 conference championships in a row," Talley joked about Montana on Thursday.
Actually, the Grizzlies (14-0) have won just 12 Big Sky Conference titles in a row, but they're undefeated for the second time in three seasons after losing last year's title game to Richmond.
They're making their fifth appearance in the national championship game this decade and seventh overall. Despite the regular appearances, Montana has only won the title twice and hasn't won since 2001, two seasons before coach Bobby Hauck took over.
"You can't try to win it any harder than we have in the past," Hauck said. "We're 14-0, we're undefeated, we're No. 1 in the nation, and we'd like to cap that with our 15th win (Friday) night, but we can't work any harder. We can't turn over any more rocks than we have in the past."
Montana wide receiver and return specialist Marc Mariani said that experience last season is helping him and his fellow teammates remain collected this year.
"We've been here before," he said. "Like coach said, we made a lot of mistakes last year pregame and during the game, and we're trying to make sure those don't happen again this year."
Tennessee hires Brown as receivers coach. Kippy Brown is rejoining the Tennessee coaching staff as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
Brown coached for previous Tennessee coaches Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer, and current Vols coach Lane Kiffin has known Brown since 1990.
Also Thursday, Tennessee dismissed junior defensive back Brent Vinson from the team. Vinson had 11 tackles this season and one interception.
Bernardi, Parker named Little All-Americans. Two state players were honored on the Associated Press' Little All-America Team. North Greenville senior linebacker Andre Bernardi was named to the second-team defense while Newberry junior linebacker Ron Parker was on the third team.
San Jose State hires MacIntyre as coach. San Jose State hired Duke defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre to replace Dick Tomey as coach. This will be the first head coaching job for MacIntyre.
The 44-year-old MacIntyre spent the past two seasons at Duke. He has also worked as a secondary coach in the NFL with Dallas and the New York Jets and spent five seasons as an assistant at Mississippi.
Ohio State player out of Rose Bowl. Ohio State will be without freshman wide receiver Duron Carter when it takes on Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Team officials confirmed that Carter, the son of former NFL and Ohio State star Cris Carter, would not play in the game. No reason was given for the move.
Marshall signs Doc Holliday to five-year deal. Marshall athletics director Mike Hamrick says West Virginia assistant John "Doc" Holliday has signed a five-year contract to coach the Thundering Herd. Hamrick says Holliday will be paid $600,000 per season.
Holliday replaces Mark Snyder, who resigned Nov. 29 after going 22-37 in five seasons.