LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For once, the University of Louisville football team will play a game without a number hanging over its head.
It's not that Central Florida is so good that any victory will satisfy the runaway expectations facing the Cardinals. All right, maybe it is. The Knights aren't nationally ranked. But they are likely the biggest challenge remaining for the No. 6-ranked Cardinals, who expect a "Wear Red" capacity crowd at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium tonight at 8 p.m.
The point spread on the game still is in double digits -- 12 1/2.
But the game poses a challenge to U of L on several levels.
-- It's the Cardinals' third game in 13 days. And they've been navigating most of those without top receiver DeVante Parker, who appears closer to return, even if his status continues to be a game-time decision.
-- UCF's Blake Bortles is the best quarterback the Cards will have faced this season, probably by a good margin. The Cardinals have built the nation's top-rated defense on the backs of some of the nation's most hapless offensive teams. Tonight is a chance for the Cardinal defense to further solidify its reputation.
-- The game is no less a huge opportunity for Central Florida. Think about its motivation. UCF has been positioning for a BCS chance for years. Now, it has one chance, and one only, for an automatic BCS bid. And that's this season.
UCF has an opportunistic defense that is tied for sixth in turnover margin in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights had three interceptions and recovered a fumble against Memphis.
The key stat to watch? Who controls third down. U of L leads the nation, covering 64 percent of its third down chances. But UCF converts at just over 50 percent, and that rate against U of L would give the Knights a shot.
Another area? Special teams. U of L has struggled, with blocked kicks in particular. UCF punter Caleb Houston averages 45.2 yards per punt, good for 13th in the nation.
"Central Florida is a very solid team, very multiple on offense and on defense," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "They're a team that doesn't beat themselves. They went up to Happy Valley and beat up Penn State and had a very impressive comeback win against Memphis. So, we know our work is going to be cut out for us."
"I think they are a really good football team, similar to us. I look at them on offense, they have a good quarterback; we have a good quarterback. They have good receivers; we have good receivers. Defensively, we are probably a little more aggressive than they are on defense. They are solid though and they are gap sound."