Before the start of the 2012 season, Charlie Strong raised the hopes of Louisville football fans before quickly delivering a word of caution.
"For the first time since I've been here," Strong said. "We have the type of talent you'd expect to see at a big-time program."
But before Cardinal fans could start planning their BCS parties for New Year's Eve, Strong cautioned that the overwhelming youth of the team was the biggest potential obstacle they would face in the fight to achieve their goals.
Both sides of Strong's preseason coin have been on full display through eight games.
The Cards will be looking to move to 9-0 for the first time in program history on Saturday against Temple, but their unbeaten status is one which hasn't been obtained in style.
Despite playing one of the least difficult schedules in the country, Louisville has defeated just three of its eight opponents by more than one score. They've had to rally from fourth quarter deficits in each of their past two victories, a 27-25 win over South Florida and an overtime victory over Cincinnati. Playing from ahead has provided similar challenges for the young Cardinals, most notably when a 36-7 first half lead over North Carolina nearly dissolved into an inconceivable home loss.
Winning ugly has been almost as much a consistent as winning period for this Louisville team, a trend which generally winds up burning the repeat offender.
Coming off an emotional Friday night overtime victory over a highly-regarded rival, the Cardinals' maturity will be put to arguably its toughest test to date on Saturday afternoon against the Owls.
Picked to finish last in the Big East before the season, Temple surprised everyone by starting their return season in the conference with victories over Connecticut and South Florida. They've since been beaten handily by both Rutgers and Pittsburgh to fall to 2-2 in league play.
With no one doubting that they'll come into PJCS fired up for the opportunity to pull a major upset, Temple presents the perfect opportunity for Strong's team to prove they're capable of handling the enormity of their situation going forward.
While Steve Addazio has done a tremendous job with this team, their talent level simply isn't on par with Louisville's right now. If the Cards can avoid the big win hangover and come out with the type of fire you'd expect to see from a team in a position to make program history, they should be able to jump out to an early lead.
If U of L is, in fact, able to notch the first two or three scores of the game, then a valuable opportunity to prove they're capable of finally putting a foot to a neck will also arise.
Ranked 121st in the country, Temple's offense will likely be the worst (outside of FCS Missouri State) Louisville will see all season. The Owls average just 132.7 yards per game through the air, the lowest total in the Big East and the fourth-lowest total in Division-I. When Temple wins, it does so via controlling the clock by riding star running back Montel Harris, and feeding off of opponents' mistakes. Basically, this is not a team built for playing from behind.
All things considered, this is the perfect test at the perfect time for Louisville.
First, if the Cards have the maturity to come out and play inspired football right out of the gate, they should be able to run out to a lead. Second, if the Cards have the maturity to keep their intensity level up even with a lead, Temple shouldn't be able to come back and make the final score close.
Parallels have been drawn between this team and the 2006 Orange Bowl squad since before the season even started. That '06 team responded to its biggest (and eighth) win of the season - a weeknight victory over a well-regarded rival in a game broadcast by ESPN - by losing a conference game a week later that almost cost it a trip to the BCS.
In order to avoid a similar fate, and to impress a now-intrigued college football world, Louisville will need to play with that level of maturity that Cardinal fans, and coaches, have been waiting to see all season.