LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Just by taking the field on Saturday, the University of Louisville football team will make history. According to point spread information from Phil Steele's College Football Yearbook, the 42.5 points the Cardinals are favored to beat Florida International by in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium today represent the largest positive point spread in U of L history.
A dubious distinction, yes, but you take what you can get.
FIU (0-3) is coming off a 24-13 loss to Bethune-Cookman, a Football Championship Subdivision school. It has just one returning offensive starter, and that player -- quarterback Jake Medlock -- isn't expected to play after suffering a concussion.
The series between the two teams has been competitive. FIU beat the Cardinals two years ago when T.Y. Hilton took over the game and sparked a 24-17 victory. That game wasn't a surprise. The Cards were favored by only three at home. More of a surprise was the fight FIU put up in a Miami monsoon last season, playing U of L to a 28-21 loss as a 14-point underdog.
FIU, out of Miami, has a roster stocked with players who know many of U of L's 23 South Florida natives well. Today's expected starting quarterback, E.J. Hilliard, was the player who took over when Teddy Bridgewater graduated from Miami Northwestern High School, and the two are close friends. (His backup, Travis Wright, played with James Quick at Trinity.)
"It's a big rivalry just because so many players here are from Florida," U of L linebacker James Burgess, a Homestead, Fla., native, said this week. "Just playing against players you played with in high school or Little League makes it a rivalry."
U of L (3-0) climbed to No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll this week and is No. 7 in the Associated Press poll. The Cardinals are coming off a rivalry win over Kentucky. But during Charlie Strong's tenure, being overwhelming favorites hasn't always meant big victories.
The Cards were 32-point favorites at home over Eastern Kentucky in Strong's first season and won by 23-13. They were 29-point favorites over Murray State a year later and won 21-9. As 37-point favorites over Missouri State last season, they won 35-7.
"One of the toughest tasks for a coach is to get a team ready that's highly favored," Strong said. "I want our team to play as if it's got something to prove. A lot of teams know how to be successful, but very few can handle success. . . . Every time we become too satisfied, satisfaction leads to loss of hunger."
Two years ago, after beating UK, the Cardinals came home to lose to Marshall. Strong hopes his players can draw on the experience of that letdown now.
"I think we're a different team now," he said. "It's a more mature team now. All those guys with Marshall were freshmen then, and now they've moved up closer to this room. I'm not so worried about the fake juice, because I think that with the veteran team we have now, they're going to come out and compete and go play well."
The noon kickoff at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is, despite the expected blowout, a sellout. The team's fan base apparently has gotten on board about Strong's message, to show up early regardless of opponents. Now, he hopes his team will do the same.
"It's always about respecting the game," Strong added. "Like I said, we're always playing against ourselves and not the opponent. The guys have to understand that even though we're in the position that we're in, we have to get better and we're going to get better. We're nowhere near where we should be. We can pull up the tape and look at it. The guys look at it and they want to get better."