If Notre Dame defeats Stanford this weekend, the Irish will lock up a BCS bowl bid and essentially pave the way to the Gator Bowl for Louisville. All that the Cardinals would have to do is take care of business against hapless Syracuse this weekend at home, then knock off Connecticut (4-5) in Storrs next week.
But don't expect Bobby Petrino's troops to pay attention the bowl talk or anything except the Orange this week.
"I've told the team they don't need to listen to all the people talking about bowls," Petrino said earlier this week. "We have one thing to concentrate on and that's beating Syracuse. If we beat Syracuse, then we have a better opportunity to get to the bowl game that we want to."
In Syracuse, the Cardinals will face the Big East's worst team. Under first-year head coach Greg Robinson, the Orange have dropped eight straight games heading into their tilt with Louisville.
Syracuse's problem this season? Simply put, there hasn't been much 'O' in the Orange.
Winless in the Big East, Syracuse ranks last in the conference in total offense (252.9 ypg.), rushing offense (112.9), and scoring offense (13.5). They also rank third to last in the league in pass offense (140).
Damien Rhodes has been one of the few
bright spots for the Syracuse offense
"He's a very good running back," Petrino said. "They haven't been as productive as they'd like to be. We're going to have to make sure we put pressure on them, and do a good job on first and second down stopping the run."
On defense, Syracuse hasn't been much better. The Orange rank last in rush defense (184), and sacks, and are second to last in turnover margin (-.50). Only two teams in the Big East allow more yards per game than the Orange defense, and Robinson's secondary has been reasonably generous to opponent's quarterbacks.
Still, Louisville's wide receivers and running backs had better keep an eye on Orange safety Anthony Smith. Smith, a big-hitter, has 67 tackles on the year and leads the league with 6 interceptions.
"They run and they hit," Petrino said of the Orange defense. "They have the best free safety that we've played against. He's the guy that almost knocked Joshua Tinch out of the game two years ago and had some big hits on Eric Shelton. He's a really good hitter and has also had some interceptions this year. We've got to make sure we get him blocked and know where he is in the passing game."
Last weekend against Notre Dame, Robinson tried to catch the Irish off-guard by with some trickery on defense. And while Syracuse held the Irish scoreless for a quarter, Notre Dame eventually pulled away for a 34-10 win.
"They had a different game plan for Notre Dame on defense than they had played all year," Petrino said. "So now we have to figure out what are they going to do with us? Are they going to stay with that game plan or go back to what they were doing? It makes it a little more difficult to prepare."
Complicating matter for the Cardinals are injuries to running back Michael Bush, wide receiver Mario Urrutia and offensive tackle Jeremy Darveau. Darveau and Urrutia are expected to play Saturday, while Bush i out for a second straight game.