The University of Louisville football team will need to enter the season prepared as the upcoming schedule ranks among the most difficult in program history. For a team that lost a significant portion of it's roster to the NFL, the schedule couldn't be more demanding from get-go.
Helping to open the college football season, the Cardinals travel to Atlanta to face Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic on September 5. Auburn is projected by many preseason publications as strong candidate for one of the four playoff spots. Ranked among the top five in most preseason polls, the Tigers are 10.5 point favorite.
Petrino ha been focused on Auburn for months and of the many strengths that the Cardinals coach possesses, prepping for a season-opener ranks high. During his 10 years as a head coach, half of that spent on the U of L sidelines, Bobby Petrino has never lost the a season-opening contest.
The two programs have met once, a 16-3 Auburn win in 1974.
The series with Houston was inked when Tony Levine, a former Petrino assistant at Louisville was the Cougars head coach. Despite guiding Houston to back-to-back bowl appearances, Levine was let go following the 2014 season.
The Cougars, former Conference USA mates of the Cardinals, are expected to challenge Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference title this fall. Houston will provide U of L with a difficult home opener on Saturday, September 12.
Louisville holds an 8-7 edge in the all-time series. The Cardinals have won three straight against the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory in 2013. Bobby Petrino has faced Houston twice as U of L's head coach and led the Cardinals to victory in both, a 66-45 win at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 2003 and an even more resounding 65-27 victory at Houston in 2004.
The Cardinals open ACC play against one of the league favorites just five days after hosting Houston. Set for a nationally televised Thursday night contest against Clemson at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville will have a lot to play for in week three.
While the season-opener against Auburn provides an opportunity to knock off a top five and SEC favorite, week three's opponent Clemson is a much more meaningful game. The winner immediate becomes a favorite, along with Florida State, to win the Atlantic Division.
An inconsistent offense haunted the Cardinals throughout last season's meeting a Death Valley, a 23-17 Tigers win. Despite the offensive woes, U of L was still within a few short yards of a possible win. The atmosphere is likely to rival some of the best evenings at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The first three-game stretch of the season could project into any combination of wins and losses. A 3-0 start would loft Louisville high into the national rankings and make the team an ACC favorite. A 2-1 start, with wins coming against any of the three should also be enough to lift the Cardinals into the national rankings. It's early in the season, so U of L would still be able to overcome a 1-2, and even an 0-3 start, but look for the Cardinals to come out of the first stretch with a winning record.