Rutgers at Louisville
KICKOFF: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
SERIES: Rutgers owns a 7-5 lead in the series that will end this year because both teams are fleeing for greener pastures -- the Scarlet Knights to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC. The Cardinals have won the last three meetings, including last year's 20-17 squeaker in Piscataway.
AP RANKINGS: Rutgers unranked; Louisville No. 8
KEYS TO THE GAME
This might come as news to fans of Alabama, Oregon or Ohio State, but Cardinals coach Charlie Strong says he's got the best team in college football.
"I look at what we have," he said. "On offense, you have an outstanding quarterback and a really good set of wide receivers; you have an outstanding offensive line. Then on defense, you have a defense that is really playing well right now. It is all about convincing them. They heard what has been said about them. I want them to realize this, that they are a good football team."
Strong's self-proclaimed No. 1 team gets a chance to make an argument to a national TV audience Thursday night when Rutgers comes to town for an American Athletic Conference contest.
Thursday-night games between these teams have produced some drama over the last decade. In 2006, when Louisville was dreaming of a national championship, it blew a big second-half lead to the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey and lost 28-25, propelling Rutgers to No. 2 nationally.
Last year, with the final Big East Conference BCS bid at stake, Teddy Bridgewater went Willis Reed, playing with multiple injuries and leading the Cardinals back from a 14-3 deficit for a 20-17 win in Piscataway.
"It's two totally different teams. A lot of guys on their team left, a lot of guys on our team left. It's a totally new year. But the guys on our team that remember that game, definitely have a sour taste, and we're looking forward to playing," Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, said, looking back at last year's 20-17 loss to the Cardinals that cost the team the Big East title.
Keeping this game close could be a huge challenge.
Rutgers isn't as good defensively as it was last year, coming off allowing 52 points Saturday in a double-overtime win at SMU, and could cough up another half-hundred with a short week to prepare for Bridgewater and Co.
Skeptics have been quick to pounce on Louisville, apparently willing to forget how it housed Florida in last year's Sugar Bowl. It fell from No. 7 to 8 in this week's rankings despite a never-in-doubt 30-7 win Saturday at Temple. Just don't tell its coach it's not BCS title-worthy.
"You have to because of what we have and the players we have," Strong said. "I just want them to realize whatever people say about our schedule or when people say you are not really playing anybody. That is enough negative stuff said about them, so let's give them a positive shot."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--LB Jamal Merrell will get the start against Louisville after missing the past three games with a kidney injury. He suffered the injury making an interception against Norfolk State, and he couldn't pick a better time to come back. The Scarlet Knights need every additional body they can find to combat the Cardinals' offensive weapons.
--RB Justin Goodwin had a breakout game against SMU. Entering the game on the team's second series, he finished with 149 yards on 24 carries and also caught two passes for 73 yards. He'll again split time with Savon Huggins this week, but the Louisville defense should be more of a challenge for the freshman.
--QB Gary Nova struggled against Louisville a year ago, with a pair of interceptions in the final five minutes sealing the Scarlet Knights' defeat. He's done well against top competition this year, however, combining for 631 yards and nine touchdowns in games against Fresno State's Derek Carr and SMU's Garrett Gilbert.
--CB Nadir Barnwell is getting a baptism by fire against some of the top quarterbacks in the country. The freshman can expect to be a frequent target for Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater to pick on this Thursday.
--DE Lorenzo Mauldin was involved in a moped accident on campus days before the season opener, but he's becoming more known for his play. Mauldin has marauded into opposing backfields all year with 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss through five games. He notched two sacks and three TFLs in Saturday's win at Temple.
--QB Teddy Bridgewater has come out of the locker room smoking this year. In five first quarters, the junior has completed 36-of-47 attempts for 514 yards, six TDs and no interceptions. If you want to find a reason the Cardinals are outscoring the opposition 51-3 in the opening 15 minutes, look no farther than No. 5.
--WR Eli Rogers has distinguished himself lately as one of Bridgewater's go-to targets, accumulating five catches for 74 yards and a TD in Saturday's victory at Temple. Rogers isn't the fastest guy or best athlete in the group, but he knows how to get open, illustrated by his 18.6-yards-per-catch average. He enters the Rutgers game with 15 receptions for 279 yards and a pair of TDs.