Believe it or not, there was a time when not every power five conference team played a game against an FCS opponent every season. In fact, it didn't happen once for Louisville between 2003-06, the first time Bobby Petrino was in command of the Cardinals. U of L started the trend in 2007, when they opened the season with a 73-10 thumping of Murray State, the same squad that will walk into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday.
That doesn't mean Petrino doesn't have an FCS sample size to examine. During his four years at Arkansas, Petrino squared off against four different FCS opponents, and gave us a little bit of a glimpse into what we might expect to see on Saturday, especially when it comes to the offense.
If you bet your friend five bucks that Petrino was going to tighten the leash on Will Gardner this weekend, first of all there are much better things to be wagering on, and second of all you're probably going to be out five bucks.
Only once in his career against FCS opponents has Petrino's starting quarterback thrown for less than 300 yards, and that was a 260-yard effort from first-time starter Tyler Wilson, who split time with another player in Arkansas' 51-7 throttling of Missouri State in 2011.
Here's a quick glimpse at what Petrino has allowed his starting quarterback to do in these instances in the past:
2008 vs. Western Illinois
Casey Dick threw the ball 41 times and finished with 318 yards and a pair of scores, but those stats were more out of desperation than running up the score. Arkansas needed 14 fourth quarter points to rally and pull off a 28-24 win over the Leathernecks in Petrino's Fayetteville debut.
2009 vs. Missouri State
With a much more experienced and talented roster than he'd had the year before, Petrino sent a message right out of the gate, allowing his quarterbacks to throw for a school-record 447 yards passing in the Razorbacks' 2009 season-opener. Ryan Mallett did most of the damage for the Hogs, finishng 17 for 22 for 309 yards and a touchdown. But Petrino didn't hold back when Tyler Wilson entered the game, allowing the backup to toss for 138 yards and two more scores. It was the first time an Arkansas team had ever thrown for more than 400 yards in a single game. They won easily, 48-10.
2010 vs. Tennessee Tech
It was Mallett again torching an overmatched opponent, as he finished 21 of 24 for 301 yards and three scores in a 44-3 Arkansas romp. Mallett was taken out late in the third quarter, and Petrino allowed backups Wilson and Brandon Mitchell to each throw the ball three times, but the Razorbacks didn't put any points on the board after the third quarter.
2011 vs. Missouri State
Wilson and Mitchell split time and combined to throw the ball 35 times for 367 yards in a 51-7 beatdown of the Bears. Despite the lopsided score, Arkansas still threw the ball more times (35) than they ran it (33).
Though he never faced an FCS squad, a similar trend shows up in the times Petrino faced seemingly overmatched FBS teams during his first tenure at Louisville. The stats from U of L's early season games against UTEP (42-14 in 2003), Army (52-21 in 2004), Florida Atlantic (61-10 in 2005), and Temple (62-0 in 2006) all show that the Cardinal head coach expects his quarterback to come out and put up numbers regardless of who the opponent is.
I'd expect you're going to see a bit more verticality from the Cardinal passing game against Murray State than you saw on Monday, and maybe a little bit of Reggie Bonnafon too.