With a win over the Bulls, Charlie Strong's young program would be guaranteed a share of the Big East title.
Don't believe it? It's true.
After beating UConn 34-20, Louisville, 4-2 in the Big East, is tied for first place in the league standings with Rutgers and has a realistic path to the BCS. The Cardinals own the tiebreaker against Rutgers and West Virginia, which has two Big East games remaining against Pittsburgh and South Florida.
So forget about FIU's Ty Hilton's big plays. Discard a three-game losing streak earlier this season to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati when Louisville's offense struggled after Mike Sanford was replaced by Shawn Watson as offensive coordinator. Throw out last week's setback against Pittsburgh.
Follow me here for a moment:
If Louisville beats USF and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh lose one of their remaining two games, the Cardinals would crash the BCS for the second time despite inexperience and a less than stellar overall record. Cincinnati, playing without quarterback Zach Collaros, has lost its last two games and ends the season against Syracuse and UConn. Pittsburgh finishes at West Virginia and at home vs. Syracuse.
"[The thought of playing for a Big East title] is floating in the air, but like I said before the game to my team and to the coaching staff, we were going to treat today like our bowl game," senior running back Victor Anderson said. "We came out, worked hard, and we played well. We came out a little shaky in the first half, but we came out and regrouped in the second half and played well. Going into next week, we've got to treat that like our bowl game."
The task for Louisville is simple: Beat USF.
Strong's young players have struggled in situations like this all season. After big road wins over Kentucky and West Virginia, Louisville, distracted by success, lost focus in practice and poor preparation resulted in losses to Marshall and Pittsburgh the following week.
Now the challenge is this: Louisville must win back to back road games to close out the season to give itself an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2006. Will Louisville be ready for the challenge next week in Florida?
To give themselves a chance at the BCS, Strong's team must pull off something no other Louisville has team has ever accomplished – not even Bobby Petrino's 2005 squad that finished 9-3 and played in the Gator Bowl – defeat South Florida in the Sunshine state.
Louisville has never beaten USF in Tampa and the Bulls have won the last two games in the series. USF is 4-0 against Louisville on their home turf, but Strong's young players are growing up quickly – the Cardinals have won four of their past five Big East games, including road wins at West Virginia and UConn – and playing their best football late in the season.
With Louisville rising, South Florida is trending the opposite direction. The Bulls, 5-5 overall, lost to Miami 6-3 Saturday and have won just once in five Big East games this season. USF's B.J. Daniels also left the game in the second half against the Hurricanes with an injury to his throwing shoulder and did not return. His status for next week's game is uncertain.
Opportunity undeniably awaits Louisville in Florida next week. After earlier failures to capitalize this season, Charlie Strong's Cardinals might finally be ready to seize an enormous opportunity.