Cards welcome challenge as favorite

After claiming victory as an underdog last fall, Louisville welcomes the challenge of winning as the favorite against rival Kentucky in the opener.

Despite the Cardinals winning four of the last five contests for the Governor's Cup, the Cardinals lone defeat came in a year with the most preseason expectations.

While it's likely impossible to find a U of L fan unaware of the preseason 'hype' surrounding the Louisville football program prior to the 2002 season, it still holds as a perfect reminder of what could have been.

Prior to that season's opening game, Cardinal fans and national media alike praised the program as one that should win the Conference USA crown and could have a chance to reach a BCS Bowl.

On September 1st, those words weren't mentioned again. The favored Cardinals couldn't hold back the underdog Kentucky Wildcats, falling 22-17, and losing their national appeal in an instant.

After helping to guide the underdog Cardinals to a 40-24 victory in Lexington last fall, senior quarterback Stefan LeFors realizes that it is easier for the underdog to surprise in a season opener.

"It's easier as an underdog, because you can sneak up on people," said LeFors, who was a reserve quarterback in 2002. "We have to learn how to play and win when we are the favorite and we're looking forward to that challenge."

As a member of team that suffered the upset loss to Kentucky and now as the starting quarterback of a favored Cardinals team, LeFors says there isn't much difference.

"It feels the same to me," explained LeFors. "As a team, we know that we are the favorite and we just need to go out there and handle it."

While no matter of spin placed upon it by the U of L coaches and players, the Cardinals are a decided favorite on paper, but LeFors realizes that paper doesn't count in rivalry games.

"It's a rivalry game and season opener and a lot things will come down to special teams, mental mistakes, penalties and things like that," said LeFors. "It's the first game, so you can expect that, but there's no reason we should have any mental mistakes. It's a rivalry game and you can throw everything out the window in these kind of games."

Head coach Bobby Petrino said it will be a focus in this week's practice sessions to reduce mistakes.

"This week in practice we will work on things so we don't beat ourselves," said Petrino. "We'll make sure that we're aligned right and not turning the ball over."

While to those not inbetween the lines on Sunday afternoon, Louisville will remain the favorite up until kickoff, but the players may feel differently.

"The coaches do a good job breaking things way down for us and making us feel like we were the underdogs," said sophomore Michael Bush.

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