Both teams feature balanced offenses led by explosive playmakers. While Louisville has Bilal Powell, Josh Bellamy and Adam Froman, Cincinnati will counter with Isaiah Pead, Armon Binns and Zach Collaros.
One of the league's most anemic offenses last season, Louisville enters its Big East opener ranked first in the conference in rushing offense, passing offense and total offense, and second in scoring.
Cincinnati also has started to put things together offensively after leading rusher Isaiah Pead returned to action two games ago against Oklahoma. The Bearcats rank second in the league in passing and total offense, third in rushing offense and fourth in scoring offense.
In their last outing, a 45-3 win over Miami, Oh., UC had more than 600 yards total offense and scored on 5 of their first 6 possessions.
"It's really critical that we get off to a good start," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "The good thing about it is that we're at home, but we're facing a really good team in Cincinnati. We know they're very good on offense, and very good on defense. It's going to be a challenge for us."
"You're going to have two good offenses [tonight]," Strong said. "Our offense is leading the conference, their offense is very high [statistically], too."
Strong's defense has been improving all season, and pitched their first shut out since 2006 last week against Memphis. But they'll receive one of their toughest tests of the seasons Friday from Cincinnati.
"We've played against some good offenses, Oregon State had a very good offense," Strong said. "But this is probably one of the most explosive offenses that we have faced to date. They have enough weapons where they can move the football around. They have a big back that they can give the ball to, and a quarterback that can hurt you who throws and can run it."
One of Louisville's most difficult challenges will be to try to find a way to stop Pead, who has rushed for 366 yards in Cincinnati's last two games against Oklahoma and Miami, Oh. Pead averages a Big East-high 9.8 yards per carry.
How does Strong plan to slow Pead?
"He's an outstanding runner," Strong said. "He's a very explosive runner and an outstanding player. So we're going to have to contain him."
While Strong tries to figure a way to slow the Bearcats offense, Cincinnati coach Butch Jones is also worried about Louisville's balanced offensive attack.
"That's a very difficult challenge because not only can they run the football, but they can throw the football," Jones said. "They're probably as balanced an offense as we have faced to date. We have to be able to take something away from them. If they're able to run the football, as well as throw the football it's going to be a long night for us."
Though Louisville has rushed for at least 165 yards in each game this season, and averages a Big East-best 218 yards per game, the Cardinals will face a stern challenge trying to run the ball against Cincinnati's defense. The Bearcats rank No. 8 nationally defending the run, allowing only 84.8 rushing yards per contest.
With junior Victor Anderson out with a shoulder injury, Cincinnati likely will focus much of their defensive attention on stopping UofL running back Bilal Powell, who ranks eighth nationally in rushing with 137 yards per contest. Powell rushed for 204 yards against Memphis last week.
"He's an outstanding football player," Jones said. "We're going to have to get 11 hats to the football. We're going to have to be able to contain him, leverage the football and gang tackle. He's going to be a great challenge to stop."
Strong has implored his team all season to play a complete game. They finally responded last week against Memphis, playing one of their best all-around games since 2006, when the Cardinals won the Big East and Orange Bowl. It will take a similar all-around effort from the Cardinals tonight to knock off Cincinnati, who has won the last two Big East titles.
"We need to play well on offense, we need to play well on defense and in the kicking game," Strong said. "I don't know if it's going to be a shoot out, but we need to play well in all three phases."
Strong sounded confident this week that his offense will keep rolling against UC.
"We're a balanced offense," Strong said. "We're running the ball very well, and anytime you can run the ball it opens up the passing game. And [Froman] has been able to make some very good throws and find the open receivers. He's playing well, but we're just so balanced on offense that it helps Froman play well, and Bilal to play well because the [defense] can't load the box."
The past few years has been a reversal of fortunes for both programs. Though Louisville has won five of the last seven games in the series, Cincinnati has won the last two, including a 41-10 romp last season.
While Louisville's program went downhill the past three years prior to Strong's arrival, the Bearcats had two water-shed seasons, winning the Big East two years in a row and playing in two straight Orange Bowls. Strong seems eager to see how much ground his program has made up on the league's best team the past two years tonight.
"This is a program that went to the Orange Bowl four years ago and hasn't been to a bowl game the last three years," Strong said about his Cardinals. "So that changed the overall attitude of this football team. We had to get them to believe that they can win. We're five games into it, we're 3-2, and we're really going to see what type of football team we are."
Jones, who replaced Brian Kelly during the off-season, has seen improvement from Louisville this season.
"You see them improving each week and their kids believe they can win," Jones said. "That's probably the biggest thing, now they expect to win. Charlie has done a great job and they're playing with a mentality – they're tough, physical and it's going to be a great challenge for us.
"They're a very, very good football team. You look at their offensive front and they're a senior, veteran group. They're very physical on defense and I love their defensive front – they're extremely quick and active. They have two really good running backs and Adam is doing a great job at quarterback running their offense."
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.