For Louisville, bowl appearances have become automatic over the past decade. Since 1998, the Cardinals have been a regular in the post-season, including last season's BCS Orange Bowl victory over ACC champion Wake Forest.
need two wins to keep their nine game
bowl streak intact.
But Louisville's bowl streak is in dire straits with just two games left to play. Here's the situation: Louisville probably needs to win at South Florida this Saturday, then turn around and defeat Rutgers at home Nov. 29 to go bowling.
The Big East conference has five bowl tie-ins, including the BCS. Currently, five Big East teams – West Virginia (8-1), Cincinnati (8-2), UConn (8-2), South Florida (7-3) and Rutgers (6-4) – stand ahead of Louisville in the Big East bowl game pecking order.
A split in the last two games likely won't do it for Louisville for this reason: In 2006, the NCAA instituted a rule stating that 6-6 teams could earn bowl bids, though teams with .500 records couldn't be selected over teams with better records. Currently, there are 58 bowl eligible teams (at least 6 wins) for 64 available bowl slots. There are also 20 more teams currently one game away from bowl eligibility with five wins, including Louisville.
"It will be interesting as this season concludes," Kragthorpe said. "As we go down the stretch, there are a lot of teams on that cusp – a lot of 5-5, 6-5 football teams right now across the country. So obviously the next two weeks for us is big for us in terms of getting to play a 13th game."
Though Kragthorpe hasn't made Louisville's bowl status a talking point, he trusts that his players understand what's riding on the last two games.
"I think they understand it," Kragthorpe said. "We haven't discussed or talked about it. We're taking it one game at a time as the old cliché goes. But I think our guys are pretty astute and know exactly where we're at and what we've got to get done to be a bowl team. And certainly we want to do that. We want to continue to play football as long as we have the opportunity to."
"We haven't really talked about it but I think it's something everybody knows," said junior team captain Eric Wood. "I know personally I don't want to be on the team that breaks the bowl streak. We're going down to South Florida and we knew all year we had to win this game. We want to take it one game at a time but this is an important game for us."
Louisville faces an uphill battle against South Florida and Rutgers. The Cardinals haven't beaten South Florida in Tampa in two tries and were blown out by the Bulls the last time the two teams hooked up in 2005 at Raymond James Stadium. Louisville also blew an 18 point lead last year in a 28-25 loss at Rutgers.
"I'm very optimistic," Wood said. "If we win seven games this year we should get a bowl bid. We put ourselves in kind of a tough situation right now and our backs are against the wall. We've just got to come out fighting these last two games and try to salvage the season and put a good spin on the end of the season."