Louisville aims for Big East title vs. USF

Louisville can clinch a share of the Big East title with a win over South Florida Friday in Tampa. To do so, the Cardinals must knock off the Bulls for the first time away from PJCS.

Louisville's Charlie Strong doesn't want to discuss all the possibilities regarding the race for the Big East title and the league's coveted Bowl Championship Series berth because if his Cardinals beat South Florida on Friday, they will have done all they can do to control their fate.

And, considering the way the team began its season, that's saying a lot.

"What we can't do with this program right now is listen to the outside influences," said Strong, whose team has won three of its last four games to rebound from a slow start and climb into a tie for first place in the conference. "Let's not worry about the bowl games. Let's go play this football game, and then we'll worry about the bowl arrangements after the game."

Louisville vs. South Florida
DATE: November 25; 11 a.m.
LOCATION: Raymond James Stadium
TELEVISION: ESPN2
Dave Lamont (play-by-play) and Ray Bentley (analyst). RADIO: Nelligan Sports Network (790 WKRD/101.7 FM) Paul Rogers (play-by-play), Tony Stallings (analyst) and Doug Ormay (sidelines). Sirius: Ch. 85/XM: Ch. 85.
SERIES: (5-3) The Bulls lead the overall series 5-3, and have never lost to the Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium in four previous trips.

Louisville (6-5, 4-2) can clinch at least a share of the league championship by doing something the Cardinals have never done, beating struggling USF (5-5, 1-4) at Raymond James Stadium. If all four conference games go their way this weekend, Strong's team would claim the title outright, as well as the Big East's BCS bid.

Six teams remain in contention for a share of the title, and five of them — Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Pittsburgh — have two conference losses and still have a shot at winning it outright.

West Virginia (3-2) and Pittsburgh (3-2) play Friday night. Cincinnati (3-2) visits Syracuse (1-4) and Rutgers (4-2) plays at Connecticut (2-3) on Saturday.

Louisville, which holds tiebreakers advantages over Rutgers and West Virginia but not Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, can do no worse than tie for first by beating USF.

A win Friday, combined with a Rutgers loss at UConn, at least one loss by Cincinnati and one loss by the Pitt-West Virginia winner would give the Cardinals the BCS spot.

"Really, at the end of the day, Cincinnati still has to go lose," Strong said. "We need to take care of our business, and then if something does happen we're right back in the thick of things."

South Florida, meanwhile, needs to win one of its remaining two games to become bowl eligible for the seventh straight year. The Bulls have lost five of six following a 4-0 start that included a season-opening upset at Notre Dame that propelled Skip Holtz's team into the Top 25.

Louisville is 0-4 against USF on the road.

"I let them know that. ... If you look at some of our worst defeats, I think the average score there for us we've lost by 21 points or more. It hasn't been a good venue for us to go play. ... Our players need to understand that," Strong said.

The Bulls could be without quarterback B.J. Daniels, who injured his right shoulder on a running play during the second half of USF's 6-3 loss to Miami last week. Sophomore Bobby Eveld finished up the lowest scoring game in school history and will start if Daniels is unable to play against Louisville.

With Daniels a threat to run as well as pass, the Bulls have ranked near the top in the Big East in total offense and scoring all season. Losing him places a heavier burden on a defense that's struggled at times, although the unit is coming off a strong performance against Miami.

The Bulls lost last week on a field goal as time expired. Three of their four conference losses have been by narrow margins, too.

Holtz, who is close friends with Strong from their days of working together as assistant coaches, called Louisville "another great challenge" for his team.

"We're glad we have the opportunity to play at home. I think they're more determined than ever. I don't think they will throw up their arms. Their attitude is good," Holtz said. "We've got to keep working. The key word is persistence. ... Nobody is pointing fingers right now. Everybody is saying what do we have to do."

One is find a way to move the ball consistently on a Louisville defense that's second in the Big East fewest yards and points allowed per game. Another is to contain the Cardinals' running game and disrupt freshman quarterback and Florida native Teddy Bridgewater, who's started the past eight games for Louisville.

Bridgewater, who's from Miami, is looking forward to being back in the Sunshine State to play before family and friends.

"There's no pressure at all. We have our minds set on one thing and that's just winning the game," Bridgewater said. "All the outside influence and all those things, we don't let it get to us."


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