We're now just a little over 24 hours away from Louisville's first home game in five weeks, and much to my own surprise I'm finding myself more anxious than excited.
The buildup to this game, to me at least, feels so much like some of the weeks leading up to losses in recent years. My primary sense of comfort right now is the notion that this team is different, and that recent history shouldn't be considered in any capacity when it comes to eyeballing this season.
Still, the nerves are going to be there for us heading into any game with an undefeated season on the line, and here are a few reasons why mine are heightened at the moment.
1. As has been pointed out a number of times before, South Florida is in almost the exact same positon Louisville was in a year ago before the Cards reeled off five wins in six games to end the regular season. What's less stated is the fact that this Bulls team is far more experienced and (probably) more talented than that Cardinal squad was.
South Florida has 25 seniors. This isn't a team that's going to start game-planning for next year because they had a disappointing first half of a season. And as far the talent, we all know it's there; it's always there. The Bulls have made a habit of playing to the level of their competition since they made the move to Division-I, and have beaten some of the best programs (and lost to some of the worst) in the country over the past six or seven years.
The issues for USF always seem to be focus, preparation and enthusiasm. That's good news for the bottom half of the Big East, not an undefeated Louisville team preparing to face the Bulls on ABC.
2. The hottest fan topic in the world of U of L sports this week has been the basketball team's preseason rankings and accolades. The hottest fan topic in the world of U of L football has been whether or not there should be a blackout theme for the Cincinnati game next Friday.
I think fans are ready to get back to tailgating and are excited to see their team, but there's not a great deal of enthusiasm over the USF game itself because...
3. No one is picking South Florida to beat Louisville. Like nobody. Almost all of the score predictions have Louisville winning by less than two scores, but so far there's been no one brave enough to saddle up with the Bulls. Some of that is probably because so many people picked Pitt to upset U of L a week ago. You don't want to be the guy who picked a sub .500 team to upset an undefeated squad two weeks in a row and was wrong both times.
4. Louisville opened the week as a 9-point favorite. That line is down to 6 at most sports books, and 5.5 at some others.
These people generally know what they're doing, so when a line moves that dramatically for seemingly no reason, it's more than a bit unsettling.
5. USF has had an extra week to prepare for this game. They've already talked about adding more play-action, which is an area where the always aggressive Cardinal defense is a tad vulnerable.
As our coaching staff said last week before the Pitt game, having that bye week gets the guys extra fired up because they get really tired of hitting each other. Regardless of what the coaches on either side of the issue say. having that extra week is always an advantage.
6. Let's be real, South Florida is a program Louisville has never had an easy time with. The Bulls lead the all-time series 5-4, and three of those five USF wins came in games the Cardinals were favored to win.
Ever since USF notched its first C-USA victory by beating the Cards in overtime back in 2003, it seems like U of L has been a game the Bulls have been extra "up" for. I can't imagine it will be any different on Saturday.
7. Multiple folks at U of L who know far more about football than I do say this is the most worried they've been about a game this season.
8. For all his flaws and all the criticism he's received, B.J. Daniels is still a guy who can throw the ball 65 yards off his back foot and who might be the best overall athlete in the Big East. The guy is good for at least one "almost single-handedly lead my team to victory" game a year, and he hasn't had one so far in 2012.
9. I can't properly put it into words, but this week has just felt so much like the week leading up to the Pitt game last year. The Cards were coming off a big conference win on the road, the most pessimistic talk about the game was "yeah I mean I think it might be close," and there were pregame and postgame festivities taking place (senior day last year, Homecoming on Saturday) that people were excited about.
The team came out flat, the crowd was never really into it, and ultimately it cost Louisville a trip to the Orange Bowl.
10. Multiple players have made posts on Twitter about being disappointed in themselves for having bad practices this week. While acknowledging their errors and being disappointed by them is a nice sign of maturity, bad practice is never a positive thing this deep into a season.
Do I think Louisville gets pushed tomorrow afternoon by a USF team with its back to the wall? I'll be shocked if they don't. Do I think the Cards ultimately prevail? I do. This isn't last year's team, and the guys who experienced the 2011 season are fully aware that a loss to the Bulls could easily be the difference between going to the BCS and playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
I know everyone's excited about the potential Friday night showdown between undefeated rivals. It's been a long time since we've had a game like that in our building, and I'm not going to lie and say I haven't spent a significant amount of time thinking about it. But we all need to remember that that game does not happen (at least in the manner we're all imagining) without a victory on Saturday.
Louisville's chasing the first perfect regular season in program history. When the stakes are that high, there are no unimportant games, no games that can be glossed over.
Everyone needs to bring it tomorrow afternoon.