Both teams have first-year coaches, high-powered offenses that feature balanced attacks, and young defenses that are improving.
The game also will feature plenty of star power. Louisville boasts quarterback Adam Froman, who leads the Big East in total yards per game, running back Bilal Powell, who ranks eighth nationally in rushing and defensive end Rodney Gnat, who leads the league in sacks. On the other side, Cincinnati has Zach Collaros, the top passer in the league, D.J. Woods, the Big East's top receiver, and running back Isiah Pead, who averages nearly ten yards per carry.
Who will jump-start their Big East title hopes Friday night? InsideTheVille.com breaks down the Keg of Nails matchup:
Big East opener: Louisville hasn't won a Big East opener since 2006, when Bobby Petrino was on the sideline for the Cardinals. Steve Kragthorpe was 0-3 in Big East openers from 2007-09, and won just five league games in three seasons, including 2-12 the past two years. Can Charlie Strong get Louisville off on the right foot in the league race Friday night against Cincinnati, the two-time defending Big East champions?
Cards finishing strong: If Louisville is in a tight game with Cincinnati Friday night, they might have the advantage. The Cardinals defense has given up only one fourth quarter touchdown all season, and pitched a shut out in their last outing against Memphis. Louisville has out-scored opponents 20-9 in the fourth quarter this season.
Top RB's sqaure off: Two of the top running backs in the Big East will square off Friday night when Louisville's Bilal Powell and Cincinnati's Isiah Pead take the field. Powell jumped to eighth nationally in rushing after his 204 yard performance against Memphis. He's averaging 137 yards rushing per game, has scored seven touchdowns and has proven capable of breaking long runs for touchdowns this season. Pead, UC's top running back, ran for 169 yards against Oklahoma and averages 9.8 yards per carry. He'll be a focal point for the UofL defense.
Who will win the QB dual?: Louisville quarterback Adam Froman and Cincinnati's Zach Collaros have both put up strong numbers this season. Though Froman started slowly, he's been outstanding recently, leading Louisville to over 500 total yards in each of the past two games. Froman ranks first in the Big East in total offense and threw four touchdown passes without an interception in Louisville's 56-0 win over Memphis. Collaros is also a dangerous quarterback who can run and throw. Highly efficient, Collaros has competed 63 percent of his passes this season and has thrown 12 touchdowns with just one INT.
Air Raid: While Cincinnati has been stout against the run, the Bearcats have been vulnerable against the pass this season, ranking 111th in the nation in pass defense. UC allows 267 yards passing per game and opponents have found great success through the air this season. That could be bad news against Adam Froman, who has thrown for more than 825 yards and eight touchdowns in Louisville's past three games. Louisville defense, on the other hand, allows just 181 passing yards per game.
Turning up the pressure: Though Louisville didn't record a sack in their first game against Kentucky, the Cardinals have turned up the heat on opposing quarterbacks the last four games. Louisville recorded five sacks against Memphis, and now ranks third nationally with 3.6 sacks per contest. That could be bad news for Zach Collaros and the Cincinnati offensive line, which has allowed nearly four sacks per game this season. Louisville defensive lineman Rodney Gnat leads the Big East with 6.5 sacks this season.
Wildcard: Louisville OC Mike Sanford has been adding wrinkles to the Wildcard formation all season, and you'd have to believe he's got something new up his sleeve for Cincinnati. Bilal Powell has been the main weapon in Louisville's Wildcard formation this season, but Victor Anderson and Dominique Brown have played increasing roles the past two weeks.
Charlie Strong has a young team this year, which bodes well for the future. Strong has played ten true freshman so far this season. B.J. Butler and Marcus Smith have both started games this season. Butler has recorded four tackles and two sacks.
The Cardinals were trying to find ways to get talented freshman Dominique Brown the football, and it looks like they have found different ways. Brown has rushed five times for 14 yards, and in the win over Memphis last Saturday, Brown played wide receiver, and recorded three receptions for 32 yards. Brown made his debut versus Arkansas State.
Louisville has held opponents to one fourth quarter touchdown this season, and has held three of five opponents this season scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Each week after a win, head coach Charlie Strong recognizes one of the three phases of the game as champions. For the offense, Strong and his staff honored the offensive line. The starting lineup Mario Benavides, Mark Wetterer, Conrad Thomas, Greg Tomczyk and Byron Stingily were largley responsible for the quarterback not getting sacked for the first time all season and the Cardinals running for a season best 299 yards. Louisville averaged a remarkable 8.8 yards per carry.
After recording a season-high 13 penalties, the Cardinals played their most error-free game of the season in the win over Memphis. Louisville tied a season-low for penalties with four (also had four against Kentucky) and didn't commit a turnover for the first time all season. Louisville had turned the ball over nine times in the first four games and were averaging 9.0 penalties per game.