Louisville's game Saturday against Connecticut is a Big East title elimination contest for the Cardinals. If Charlie Strong's team beats the Huskies for the third consecutive year, Louisville will play Rutgers next Friday for the Big East championship. If UofL loses to UConn, well, the Cards BCS hopes are down the drain.
Louisville senior center Mario Benavides hopes to win the Big East title
It's that simple. Louisville must beat UConn or their BCS hopes are gone.
"We've got to take care of UConn," Strong said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves and start worrying about Rutgers because if we go and get slapped around [by UConn] the last game means nothing to us then."
While Louisville will be playing for their (Big East) lives at PJCS Saturday, the talk in the stands likely will be whether Louisville or UConn will replace Maryland in the ACC. The two schools are considered the frontrunners to replace the Terrapins, who left the ACC for the Big 10 this week. The ACC could make a decision soon on which school they'll invite.
“I try not to get caught up in that because really my focus right now is to go prepare this team for these next two games," said Strong. "It’s all about us and these next two games more than anything.”
"I have no idea what they are looking for, but we have a lot to offer,” Strong added.
Though fans might be more concerned about what happens in the ACC, Strong's focus is on UConn. Louisville is coming off their first loss of the season two weeks ago to Syracuse, and have had two weeks to prepare for the 4-7 Huskies. Strong used the bye week to shore up his defense, which allowed a season-high 45 points against the Orange.
"What we wanted to do in the bye week is get that game is behind us," said Strong. "Get that game away and then just focus on the next two. Just focus on ourselves and making ourselves and this football team better.”
"With this football team right now, it’s all about our focus and our preparation. We control our own destiny from here out. It’s not what anyone is going to do to us. It’s what we are going to do to ourselves. The key right now is our effort, our preparation just heading into these next two games and just making sure we are mentally and physically locked in.”
Saturday's game will be the final home game for Louisville's 13 seniors - Mario Benavides, Daniel Brown, Adrian Bushell, Bo Eggers, Stephen Goodwin, Nick Heuser, Alex Kupper, Nate Nord, Scott Radcliff, Andrell Smith, Will Stein, DeMarcus Topp and Chris Zelli. Strong credits the class with helping turn the program around quickly after Steve Kragthorpe's dismissal as coach.
“Saturday is going to be senior day, and just appreciate what they’ve done," said Strong. "If you look at this senior class, three-straight bowl games. Last season, we were co-champions of the BIG EAST. You think about (Will) Stein, you think about (Alex) Kupper, you think about Mario (Benavides), Andrell (Smith), (Scott) Radcliff - those guys on offense have played their best football. Then, on defense with Daniel Brown having an injury early, (he) may be able to play these next games. If he’s not able to play against Connecticut, he will be ready for the Rutgers game. Then, with (Adrian) Bushell playing the way he’s played.
"But this senior class – when we came in, we talked about our foundation. I just feel this group is a part of us because they’ve been with us for three years and they have been a part of watching this program build. You cannot ask for a stronger group of seniors with the leadership they have provided this season.”
“What you were able to do with this senior class is you have some really strong personalities. I know this, (Will) Stein doesn’t play, but he has such a strong personality that guys will follow his lead. When he speaks, guys will listen to him. Even with Mario (Benavides), (he) has a really strong personality and (Adrian) Bushell on defense. You were able to take three or four guys out of that senior class and those guys were able to stand up, speak and players would listen to them. So, they were able to take that leadership.”
Now, Strong's seniors will try to guide the Cardinals to two more wins so they can finish their careers in a BCS bowl game.
"What I tried to tell our players is we're still 9-1 at that the end of the day and that one game is not going to define our season for us," said Strong. "We still have two games to play and we are still in control of our own destiny. We have to make sure we don't lose our confidence and continue to focus and execute. That's what's going to happen down the stretch. It's a two game season and it's going to be critical for us to continue to do the little things."
Louisville senior Alex Kupper was announced by the Burlsworth Trophy selection committee as one of the 10 semi-finalists for the 2012 award. The Burlsworth Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding football player in America that began his career as a walk-on.
Kupper is one of the most versatile and consistent offensive linemen on a team that is 9-1 and ranked 18th in the country. The former walk-on from Trinity High School has played all three positions on the line this year and has started 22 straight games. He is touted by his coaches as the team's top offensive lineman and anchors the line at Louisville, which is ranked 42nd in the country in total offense.
DONATE A TOY
The University of Louisville football program is teaming up with Margaret's Moving and Storage and Toys for Tots this holiday season, and is asking fans for their help by donating toys.
Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to the Connecticut game on Nov. 24. Margaret's Moving and Storage Truck will have boxes located in Street Fest and at each gate for fans to donate toys to this excellent cause.
Toys for Tots will give the toys to families in Louisville that can't afford to provide toys for the Christmas holiday.
The Louisville football team will host an autograph session benefitting Dare to Care Food Bank on Wednesday, Dec. 5th from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the PNC Club of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
There is a two-item limit per person for merchandise to be autographed, and attendees are requested to bring a non-perishable food item that will be donated to the Dare to Care Food Bank.
The players will be the only participants in the autograph session.