Louisville needs help from its friends in The American Athletic Conference in its push for national credibility this season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Southeastern Conference has six teams that could start the 2013 college football season ranked in the Top 15. The Big Ten has Urban Meyer, an improving Michigan and faith that Nebraska will eventually be Nebraska again. One day.
What does The American Athletic Conference have?
I'm glad you asked.
The American has the University of Louisville, which is stirring early chatter as a team that will be in the national championship conversation.
The Cardinals, coach Charlie Strong and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater need help. They will need it from the nine other teams in their new conference. Chunks of the football world are poised to be as skeptical about the quality of play in The American as they were about the Big East.
Why? Louisville is the only American team earning Top 25 consideration. Everybody else has work to do in a crowded college football media market. And they know it.
"There's some teams that will make a difference in college football," said Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville. "And we'll only do it, though, no matter how good we are, if we're followed by media and television."
"If we're going to be big time, like I say we are, we gotta play big-time people," South Florida coach Willie Taggart said. "And we have great opportunities this year to do it."
Translation: The American's 10 programs must win their high visibility non-conference games, especially the ones on national TV. Here is my ranking of the non-league games that matter most for each team.
1. Central Florida at Penn State, Sept. 14 – Penn State isn't Penn State, but that's OK. The brand still resonates, especially when the Nittany Lions are playing in their 106,572-seat home shrine. George O'Leary and the Knights have the team speed to create issues for Linebacker U, which lost at home to Ohio University last season.
2. Arkansas at Rutgers, Sept. 21 – The Scarlet Knights won at Fayetteville last season. If Rutgers wins again, folks will say what they said last season -- Arkansas is a bad SEC team. Who cares? It's still a win against that league.
3. Miami at South Florida, Sept. 28 – The Bulls have two chances to help the Cards. Don't expect something sensational at Michigan State. But this one sets up perfectly for Taggart's first big win. USF at home following an off week against a Miami program that has lost more road games (six) than it has won (five) the last two years.
4. Brigham Young at Houston, Oct. 19 – West Coast cred helps and BYU, 8-5 last season, has some.
5. Purdue at Cincinnati, Aug. 31 – If you're going to play two Big Ten teams to open the season, Purdue and Illinois are two you can beat. With the Reds making a playoff push and the Bengals ready to open their season, Tuberville better not lose the first two if he expects to hold the attention of the hometown fans.
6. Louisville at Kentucky, Sept 14 – There's no juice on the Cardinals' non-league schedule. So Kentucky is The Moment, despite predictions that the Wildcats will finish last in the SEC East. In-state rival. On the road. New coach. SEC. The Cards need to win with authority.
7. Michigan at Connecticut, Sept. 21 – Are you asking the question I'm asking? How did the Huskies get Michigan to visit their 40,000-seat stadium that sits in the Cabela's parking lot in East Hartford? Louisville plays at UConn in early November. People will play the comparative score game.
8. Texas Tech at SMU, Aug. 30 – Talk about ambitious. With Hal Mumme calling the plays as offensive coordinator, the Mustangs visit Texas A&M and TCU. Loss. Loss. But they open at home against the Red Raiders and their first-year coach, Kliff Kingsbury. Kool.
9. Temple at Notre Dame, Aug. 31 – The Owls will not win in South Bend. They're 25-point underdogs. But the Owls will be televised nationally on NBC. The Irish have lost quarterback Everett Golson, linebacker Manti Te'o and, Manti Te'o's… well, never mind. Temple better avoid a blowout.
10. Duke at Memphis, Sept. 7 – I had to include a Memphis game on the list. Sorry.