Two of the AAC's most exciting teams go head-to-head this Saturday night with prime bowl positioning at stake as Louisville and Houston get set to square off for the first time since both schools were in the Conference-USA in 2004.
The conference title is probably out of reach for both teams (more on that in a minute) but there's a definite element of pride at stake here. It's also an opportunity for two very talented head coaches—Louisville's Charlie Strong and Houston's young Tony Levine—to show off on national television against each other. It should be an entertaining game.
Rankings and records: Louisville comes in at No. 20 in the nation and an 8-1 (4-1) record, while Houston is a respectable 7-2 (4-1) itself. The two teams have a 6-6 record against each other, but Louisville had won five of the last six. For Louisville, the magic number is 30: it has won every game against Houston in which it hit the 30-point mark, and lost every game where it fell short.
Vegas: Louisville is a 16-point favorite, per OddsShark.com. The over/under is 57.5 points.
Weather: "Louisvillllle in Novemberrrrr, it's cold, it's rainy, it's coooold" goes the song in my head I just made up. Look for temperatures in the low 50s with rain moving into the area that night.
Three names to know
No discussion of Louisville football can start without Teddy Bridgewater, the one-time Heisman Trophy finalist. The Heisman dreams may have evaporated with Louisville's national championship aspirations, but Bridgewater's still incredibly talented and a likely top-5 pick in the NFL this spring. Someone's going to need his arm, and if they're not drafting early they'll trade up to get him.
Houston's got its next great QB in place as well. Freshman John O'Korn has been emerging under center for the Cougars, and while his production isn't near departed QB Case Keenum's level, well, whose is? O'Korn still boasts over 260 yards per game and 23 touchdowns to only six interceptions on the year. He's going to be a good one.
Finally, this may be one of the last opportunities Louisville fans get to appreciate head coach Charlie Strong. Strong has built the Cardinals into a powerhouse, and his Florida roots may be tapped upon during the offseason as several big-name programs come looking for head coaches. USC's a near-certainty, while Texas and Florida's head coaches are teetering badly. If someone throws enough money at Strong to leave (and they'd be crazy not to), Louisville fans should feel lucky to have had him—and confident that the program can attract the next great young coach.
Two things at stake
A shot at the conference title and a BCS bowl is probably out of the question for either team. Even as both sit with just one loss in AAC play, both teams' only loss came against UCF, so unless the Knights drop two late conference games, any tiebreaker would go to UCF. Still, though no conference title is at stake, the two teams can play for conference and bowl positioning, as the next two bowls are the Russell Athletic and Belk Bowls. The Russell Athletic Bowl gets the ACC's third bid, while the Belk gets the fifth, and that's pretty much the difference between facing Virginia Tech and facing Georgia Tech. You want to be facing Virginia Tech.
Also, a win here vaults Louisville more firmly into the Top 20.While a BCS bid's probably not in the cards, we're still talking about the best finish since the Bobby Petrino days at stake, and that'd be a fantastic way for this program to finish off the season. It's not undefeated, so it's not ideal, but there'll be lean days in Louisville again—maybe soon, you never know—and it'll be a lot better to think back to seasons like this in those lean days.
How to witness
TV: The game is on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET. Clay Matvick, Matt Stinchcomb and Dawn Davenport are on the call.
Online streaming: As with all games on the ESPN family of networks, this game will be on ESPN3.com. Xfinity subscribers can watch the game here.